Lockdown is easing here in the UK. As a leader you’ll be thinking about what returning to the workplace might look and feel like for yourself, team members and colleagues. Many organisations are contemplating a model in which work will be done both remotely and in the office. It seems a hybrid workforce will be one of the lasting impacts of the pandemic.
Whatever approach your organisation takes, your employees will have their own views. Lots of them. As a leader you’ll need to prepare for the many conversations ahead. And some of them will be difficult conversations. They will demand your capacity to listen deeply. Given your team members’ varied and complex experiences, and the uncertainty and ambiguity that still lies ahead, listening deeply to others will require you to listen first to yourself. Recommended as the foundation by deep listening expert Oscar Trimboli, listening to others requires proficiency in listening to yourself.
How often do you listen to yourself? Really listen? Can you press the pause button and listen to yourself?
You might be very conscious of the narrative you tell yourself about yourself, other people or the situation. You might be highly reflective and regularly ask yourself: “How could I have been better?” “What might I have done differently?” On the other hand, you might not listen to yourself, feeling there is no time in your day for such a practice. You may have lost the commuting time which gave you the time and space.
Listening to yourself requires you to notice. Notice the words you use, the feelings you experience, and the impact of your thoughts on your behaviour. Is your language critical or compassionate? What feelings arise when you think about returning to the workplace? What comes to mind when you think about reconnecting with your colleagues beyond your immediate team?
Taking time every day, even 5 minutes, to listen to yourself will help you in many ways. As you listen to yourself, you’ll discover ways to support yourself. And you’ll anticipate ways to support your team members when they need you to listen – really listen.
Listen to yourself to notice and challenge your assumptions
We all make assumptions about ourselves, others or our situations. And our assumptions create barriers to our thinking and action. Which assumptions are true? Which are untrue? When you discover an untrue assumption, ask yourself: “What could I credibly assume instead to move forward, to take the next step or to feel more confident?”
During one of my recent trainings, after a 5-minute listening to yourself activity, a delegate shared the outcome of his experience. He had asked himself the question: “How do I want to spend the rest of my life?” And then he had listened. He envisioned going into partnership in his business, taking more of a non-executive role, having more free time to do the things he loved to do. Returning to the group, we witnessed a visible shift in his energy – right there, right then. A valuable investment of 5 minutes.
During this year, I imagine you and some of your team members may well have asked similar profound questions. As a leader, you’ll want to be aware of the depth of thinking that your team members may have done because it will have direct implications for how they feel about returning to the workplace. You’ll want to prepare to listen deeply as they trust you with their thoughts. You’ll be better placed to do so having listened to yourself.
Listen to yourself to acknowledge what is important to you and others
What do you care about? When you ask yourself this question, what regularly comes to the front of your mind?
During this pandemic we have witnessed a polarisation of views and behaviours. Ongoing uncertainty pushes many of us to find some comfort in strongly held opinions. As a leader you’ll need to create a climate in which opposing views are held, respecting the difference and honouring the dignity of team members. You’ll want to create the conditions where disagreement can be upheld without disconnection. The quality of your deep listening, free from interruption and judgement, will be an essential skill as you navigate challenging conversations and potential conflicts. Your readiness to demonstrate deep listening offers a model for others to follow.
Listen to yourself to recognise helpful and harmful patterns
What is draining your energy? What is fuelling your energy?
We have witnessed a change in work schedules. My clients tell me that their commute time is now 3 minutes – from the kitchen to the home office. Their day begins earlier and finishes later. Workloads have increased and resources decreased. The pattern of overwhelm returns. While productivity may have increased due to the lack of interruption and better use of technology, work meaning and fulfilment has, in some cases, dropped due to the lack of deeper connections. The pattern of overwhelm reveals itself once more.
Noticing the pattern creates the opportunity for change. Ask yourself the questions: “What do I need to let go of? What do I need to prioritise? Who can help?” Listen to your answers and take the first step towards breaking limiting patterns.
Listen to yourself to reconcile others’ expectations
As a leader you are used to being held to account in conflicting ways. Measured on productivity and output from the stakeholders above. Expected to provide care and compassion by your team members and peers. And the tension between these responsibilities is stronger than ever. You’ll want to honour the trust you have generated with your team members during the pandemic, celebrate their independent thinking and resourcefulness, and advocate for the best working practices that serve your customers, business, team members and yourself.
You might not have all the answers you want at this moment. But your capacity to listen to yourself in preparation for listening deeply to others will stand you in good stead for what’s to come in the months ahead.
Thanks for listening!
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Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash.