Leaders Build Trust by Listening First

Relationship Trust

Building trust requires deliberate behaviors.

There are five competence-based behaviors: delivering results, getting better, confronting reality, clarifying expectations, and staying accountable. We’ll also explore the “counterfeit” versions of these behaviors. A counterfeit behavior is one that looks like the trust-building behavior, but instead of building trust, this behavior is distorted into something that tears trust down.

This week: Listen First

Listen before you speak, and listen to understand, not to respond. Then, diagnose. Listen with your eyes and heart in addition to your ears. Find out what behaviors matter the most to your colleagues. Don’t assume you know what others care about most. Avoid the presumption that you have all the answers–or even all the questions.

The opposite of listening first is to speak first. Whereas speaking first can be rare among experienced leaders, a common “counterfeit” is listening without understanding. Instead, you listen only to formulate a reply. Or to find weaknesses in the other person’s position. Or to focus on your own agenda by employing deceptive listening skills designed to make the other person think you are actively listening.

I like to move and think fast, so this trust-building behavior is difficult for me. Not because I don’t want to understand or because I think I know everything already. Instead, it’s because I’m impatient and experienced, and my experience often fools me. In other words, I succumb to the Success Deception. I think I already know where the conversation is going, so I think I’m being helpful by efficiently pushing closer to the conclusion.

What to do instead?

Say things like this:

  • What I hear you saying is…
  • Let me make sure I understand everything you’re trying to say…
  • Let’s clarify what the group is saying…
  • Is there anything you’d add to what you just said?
  • It seems like you feel [insert observed feeling, like unhappy or energized] about [insert what you think the topic is]. Am I close?
  • My intent is to first understand your point of view, then explain my own.

Avoid interrupting or pushing toward conclusions. Listen first to build trust.

Next week: Keep Commitments.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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