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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Jan 31, 2024

Leaders may not even be aware that they are poor listeners.  They are very focused on telling others what to do. Being time poor, they are very focused on their own messaging, rather than the messaging efforts of others.  In the war for talent in Japan, that could be a fatal move.  One of the biggest factors driving engagement in Japan is the feeling that the boss values you.  If the leader isn’t really listening to the team members, they are not stupid and they will pick up on this.  Before you know it, they have fled to greener pastures.  They are off to your competitor, and the arduous and expensive task of replacing them begins.  We don’t want that.

Here are some hints on making sure you are a gold medal winning listening boss.

1.        You display an open and accepting attitude toward the speaker

This sounds easy, but are we doing it?  Have we stopped the noise in our own brain to refocus on the person in front of us and not let that internal message competition diminish our capacity to listen to what we are being told?  Are we in a neutral mindset and not bringing up silent annoyances from past associations with this person?  Maybe they screwed something up recently and your mind is having flashbacks while they are talking to you and you are thinking about what happened. 

How is your body language control?  I remember I caught myself shaking my head in disagreement while someone was telling me their idea.  It was something I didn’t agree with and I was showing it.  It was an automatic physical reaction. I realised right there that I couldn’t allow that to happen again. Now, I try to keep a strong lock on my body language, in case I am communicating a negative message.

2.        When someone approaches me with a question, I stop what I am doing and give them my full attention

I worked with a fellow Division Head once who was a shocker. When I visited his workstation, he had three screens set up and while I was sitting there talking; he continued to multi-task.  He would type away, reading the screen and listening to me, all at the same time.  It was a total insult in my mind.  His self-awareness was dismally low and I remember how it made me feel.  So, I made a pact with myself to never do this to others.

Whenever my staff comes to me while I am typing, I physically lift the keyboard up and rest it against my computer stand to show I am not doing anything else but listening to them.  I find this a good discipline, because when I am concentrating, the temptation is to type and listen at the same time – bad idea!

3.        I concentrate on what is being said even if it is of little interest to me

I saw a dramatic demonstration of this by my old boss.  He was a senior Director in the firm and had a very big job.  One evening, I was sitting in his office as he was explaining something to me, when one of the secretaries popped her head in the door to say something to him as she was leaving.  It was a light comment from her, nothing particularly important, but he stopped talking to me immediately and gave her his 100% concentration.  I thought “Wow, that is impressive”. He made her feel like a million dollars. No wonder he was one of the most popular leaders in that hierarchical, tough, hard edged, cutthroat world of serious big ticket real estate.

It is hard to focus on things we don’t consider important, because so much of our day is taken up with Quadrant One urgent and important items.  The interruption seems like a waste of our valuable time.  It might be important to them, but not to us. We have a lot to do baby, so the temptation is to brush them off and get back to the grindstone.  We have to overcome that habit and really appreciate that this topic is important to them. If they are important to the firm, then we have to give them our full attention to show we value them.

4.        I try to understand the viewpoint of the person who I disagree with

This is not easy.  Leaders are often very forceful people, used to breaking down walls and pushing forward regardless of the obstacles.  When we get pushback, we overcome it and drive hard toward the outcomes we want.  That becomes an automatic reaction and when combined with impatience, it can be a lethal cocktail.

The person we are talking to has come to a conclusion based on a series of factors – their experience, what they have read, what they have heard, etc.  They feel their viewpoint is valuable and legitimate. Here we are sloughing them off and not taking them seriously.  This will drive people out the door at breakneck speed to the welcoming arms of our rivals. 

It is probably killing us, but we have to suspend judgement and accept that there may be many paths to the mountaintop and they may have discovered an alternate route.  Maybe we are unmoved by their idea, but at least we have to afford them the respect of taking them seriously and listening carefully to what they have to say. 

As leaders, we think we are good listeners, but often we are good tellers and poor listeners in reality.  How did you fare with this short checklist about your listening skills?  We can all do better. These little hints are excellent reminders of best practice to retain staff.  We need to build the culture internally where people feel valued and want to stay with the firm.  The alternative is expensive, disruptive and very time consuming, if people leave us during this Japan war for talent.  Listening to our people is a vital skill we need to improve to protect and grow the business.