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Heidi Helfand on Listening for Maximum Impact

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Leadership starts with listening and it can amplify your impact. Heidi Helfand presented at the Agile2018 conference on developing our listening skills to be a better leader. Leaders who listen have a big impact on their teams. Slowing down and paying attention, actually listening vs. jumping to give answers, is where the impact is. It may seem slower, but has lasting results.

Who is the best leader you have ever had? And, what made them the best? Chances are listening is at the top of the skills they used to be that "best leader ever". Great leaders encourage, inspire, motivate, and are compassionate. These qualities all require great listening skills. Improving listening skills starts with self awareness of your own listening, and being aware of your own focus and where it is at any given moment when interacting with others.

Helfand shared three tools to amplify your impact and listening:

  • Listening Levels
  • Mirroring & Paraphrasing
  • Powerful Questions

Listening levels help us become aware of our focus. Helfand took us through three listening levels, and we practiced being in tune with which level we were using. Inward focused was the first. This is when you are listening to your own mind and your own space. Outward focus is when you listen to the other person intently. The third level is body language and environment focused. This is when you are tuning into the body language of others and the environment around you and the others. The key is being aware of which level you are listening at in any moment.

Mirroring and Paraphrasing is about how we present ourselves and our contributions to the conversation. Mirroring is physically matching the other person. If they smile, you smile; it's the intense contact that often comes natural when you are focused on the other person and truly listening for intent. Paraphrasing is not repeating exactly what the other says, but rather summarizing what you think they intended to say. This also includes recognizing and acknowledging the feelings the other person is expressing, and asking questions to clarify and go deeper.

The third tool is Powerful Questions. Powerful questions invoke insight in the other person. They are not one word answer questions, and they are often not easy to answer. Powerful questions are also not about information gathering for you as a listener, but are to help the other articulate, move forward and create a path. Some examples of powerful questions are:

  • What do you want?
  • What's important about this?
  • What is one step you could take?
  • How do you want it to be?
  • How might you approach it?

Each of the three tools has it's purpose, and sometimes advice giving is what is needed. Listening levels 2 and 3 move others to action, which is where as leaders we often want influence. Use the tools together or alone to get results, as long as you are aware and in tune with the other person.

Happy listening and happy leading!

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