These are just a few examples of how executives have started their private coaching conversations this week:

Mayhem!    Daunting.    O.M.G.    Wow.    Where to start?

Often while making facial expressions of disbelief, holding their face between their hands or simply appearing exhausted. What was needed at that moment? “Tell me more.” And then, I listened.

Why Listening?

As coaches, we are trained and practice daily the skill – and art – of Listening. Every leadership development class has some form of Listening Skills. Every leader I know will admit they know it’s critical and they could do it better. Knowledge is NOT power because if it were, everyone would lose five pounds, get more sleep and be better listeners.

Listening is the bedrock of inspiring, inclusive leadership

According to a survey conducted by Jacob Morgan, only 8% of employees reported their mid and senior level managers practice this skill “very well.”  The study didn’t cross-compare how good they are at listening, though my experience is that leaders (and friends and almost everyone I know) always think they are better listeners than others assess them to be.

With all the uncertainty, disruption and complexity, the ability of leaders to build trust, enroll stakeholders, lead through change and inspire others is largely based on their ability to listen well.

Yesterday, an executive who just announced a major organizational change that is disrupting thousands of associates and their teams mentioned to me that “pre-Gisele, I would have spent my energy and time convincing and telling people why they should get on board, why this was in their best interest and why the business will ultimately thrive. This time, I didn’t do that. I listened, asked questions and helped them think through how they felt about the change, providing input at times when their information was incorrect.”

He was pleasantly surprised at how well the conversations went, how inspired associates were about the future possibilities and how much positive momentum was created throughout the conversations, which he mostly attributed to the listening he demonstrated.

What is Real Listening?

In our work building high performance teams, there are two foundational behaviors all members must practice and consistently model. Real Talk, and Real Listening. It sounds so simple and yet, breakthrough begins towards high performance in every team when all members start here.

Real Listening and hearing are two very different things. How many times has someone told you their name and you heard it and couldn’t remember what it was two minutes later? When we listen, we consciously set the intention and are able to internalize what they said and what they didn’t say. 

We are interested, curious, even receptive to what they are thinking and feeling no matter what. I attribute the close relationship I have with my two teenage children because I continually tell them the following (which is rarely easy!):

I am more committed to having you tell me what you want to say, than having you tell me what you know I want to hear.

3 Levels of Listening

There are three levels of listening you use depending on the situation and your intention of what you want to create.

LEVEL 1: Right / Wrong Listening (RW): We all have voices in our heads. For those of you who don’t think you do, that voice might be saying right now: “Voice? I don’t have a voice. I don’t talk to myself…” (Yes – that voice). That voice also often thinks in extremes: “I like that, I don’t like that; I agree with that; I’m right about this; you’re wrong about that.” This often plays out in how we listen, an exaggerated version goes something like this: “I’m right, and you’re wrong. Regardless of how much, how often or how well you communicate, it ultimately comes down to me being right.” It sounds extreme, and pay attention. We tend to use this kind of listening the majority of the time, often unconsciously, until we realize there are other kinds of listening we can utilize.

LEVEL 2: Point of View Listening (POV): What starts to change the listening game is when we become curious in what others are saying. This is especially challenging when we have a different point of view (and think we’re right) and often plays out in decision-making and managing conflict. When we move into level 2 POV Listening, we get genuinely interested in what the other person or team is thinking, saying, and advocating. We may not initially believe it, see it the same way or agree. Before disagreeing (which would be Level 1 RW Listening), you can literally use the language: 

  • Ask. Tell me more about/help me understand your point of view–
  • Acknowledge. So you’re saying your POV is —
  • Add. I hear you’re POV. From my POV –.

Here’s the irony: the more you demonstrate interest in their POV, the less attached they will be to it. Beneath it all, people want to feel seen and heard. When you do this, they often become less focused on convincing you, more willing to loosen their grip and willing to collaborate to find a solution.

One client has poor data management, resulting in leadership team (LT) members getting different versions of the same data, all thinking theirs is “right”. There were silos and conflict rampant in the team. When LT members started listening and exploring each others’ versions of the data, they realized why they had different POV’s and were able to align and make decisions because they sought to understand each others’ point of view instead of assuming theirs was always “right.”  

LEVEL 3: Deep Insight Listening (DI): Listening for Deep Insight is when you truly care and are at stake for the other. Your focus is 100% on them, not you, which is for most people, the hardest part. There are 3 main reasons to practice level 3 listening:

  • To truly see and understand THEM. Their agenda, not yours. No action, no fixing, no solving. Simply being with the other can be more helpful, healing and guiding than we can ever imagine. The bonus? When you listen at this level, you’ll be shocked at how often they fix and solve their own challenges, how much more connected you are, and how much more empowered they feel (with you feeling like you didn’t do anything).
  • The insight YOU can get from THEM. Insight is based on the word derivation meaning “inner sight, wisdom.” Most disagreements, conflict, biases and disconnections come because you focus on our own insular reality rather than getting to know others’ realities. When you allow yourself to get curious about others’ experiences, knowledge and worldview, you will be surprised at how you can grow and evolve your own insights, which is part of embodying a growth mindset.
  • When YOU want to help THEM get their own insight. The secret to others solving their own problems, feeling empowered, and being inspired is that THEY identify their own insight. It’s the hardest part of listening, coaching, leading, and parenting. It’s often so obvious to us, and we want to say “if you would just …” When you provide the insight it’s not an insight, it’s you solving their problem, which breeds compliance. When they solve their own problem, it inspires commitment. The irony is that when you truly listen and they have an insight they feel excited about, they will likely thank YOU and think you’re brilliant. When that happens, simply smile and say “you’re welcome.” 

When leaders start truly practicing POV and DI listening, they will often say, “I don’t feel like I’m doing enough, I’m not adding enough value” because they are programmed to believe that action, doing and fixing is value. 

A key step in leaders’ evolution is to rewire the false assumption from Leading is Doing to Leading is Inspiring and Including. 

Listening is the foundational skill to practice for inclusive leaders who inspire. Stay tuned for the next post on Coaching Skills, which is the next skill inspiring leaders consistently model. 

Ask Yourself:

  • How do you get in your own way while listening?
  • If someone listened to you the same way you listen to others, how inspired would you be?
  • What is one thing you could do to listen 10% better than you do today?

Please feel free to reach out to Gisele Garcia Shelley if you’d like to connect about how to apply these learnings, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenge you are facing today.

Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health. 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours in practice,



If you are interested in exploring how to unlock the potential of yourself, your team or the women in your organization , contact us for a complimentary discovery conversation.

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