Men, it’s time to listen up in order to understand the evolving workplace
In my experience, when men are ready to become advocates for women, they want to start by “Leading.” This is what they do. In reality, this is the third step to success. The first step is to “Listen.” - Recent Fortune 500 Keynote, Jeffery Tobias Halter
Most organizations are seeking solutions on how to attract, retain and advance women. Many men — I believe up to 30 percent want to help. The challenge is knowing what to do on a daily basis to demonstrate advocacy. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, progressive companies and their leaders are undertaking four simple, but very hard, actions to chart a new course for their organizations:
- Have the Will to Change
Over the course of the next several blogs, I will distill these actions into steps that you can put into immediate practice to drive change. Let’s begin with the first step – listening.
Genuinely listening to employee issues and concerns is the requisite first step to gaining understanding before diving into “leading.” To understand what is happening (or not happening) in your organization, it is imperative that senior leaders (namely older white men since they comprise more than 85 percent of senior business leaders) explore this paradigm:
Men and women are having significantly different experiences in the workplace.
Both genders are working hard, but women are working significantly harder as they constantly have to deal with being one of a few in the room. This is something that is rarely experienced by men. Typically in leadership meetings, men are the majority, and as such, make the rules. To the men reading this article, have you ever wondered about the minority experience in your company? It is time to ask and listen.
Take a woman you know and trust to lunch and ask one simple question:
Do you believe men and women are having different experiences at the company?
Then be quiet and genuinely listen. Don’t interrupt, don’t be defensive or justify company policies, just shut up and listen. After 10 minutes, ask a second time,
What else don’t I know?
Genuinely listen intently for another 10 minutes and ask a third (and final) time,
And what else?
In that last 10 minutes, you will hear root-cause issues that you have never heard or imagined existed in your company. You will hear about differences that women (and perhaps other minorities) are experiencing every day within your company. These experiences have a direct correlation to work, performance, retention and advancement.
Recently, Holly Dowling, Global Keynote Speaker & Inspirational Thought Leader, invited me to be a guest on her Celebration of You podcast. When our discussion touched on listening, she suggested that our next conversation focus on the art of listening and its importance as a business skill.
JTH: Holly, why is listening so important?
HD: My favorite mantra is "Listen so others will speak, speak so others will listen." There's a reason we've been given two ears and one mouth.
When you talk, you know what you know. But when you listen, you know what they know and what you know.
It’s also critical to remember that listening is not about winning, it is about gaining an understanding. When you truly listen, the experience that you give someone else creates trust, increases motivation and recognition, and allows people to feel heard and valued. The greatest gift that leaders can give their team, or managers to their direct reports, is mastering the art of listening.
If you don't have the ability to have live, face-to-face communication, this is even more important. Shut down all distractions and take notes so that you can repeat back to the person what you heard them say because you have so little time to make such an impact.
JTH: What can busy leaders do to hone their listening skills?
HD: One of the listening exercises that I ask people to do is to close your eyes and think about a time that you had a great conversation with someone. Think about the last time you left a conversation and felt energized and excited. Most likely, it's because the person you were conversing with was asking questions and being a great listener, and you did most of the talking. So, in essence, it takes no money, no strategy and no time. It takes being intentional about being a great listener. Fewer things can improve a relationship better than improving your listening skills in both your work and personal time.
JTH: Do you notice any gender-based differences between men and women as listeners?
HD: I am going to be so bold to say that, while I don't have research, I honestly believe that women are far better listeners than men. My recommendation for men who want to be active as a listener and try to improve their leadership skills is to ask questions and then zip it. Then, listen to what people say, take notes if you need to so that you can repeat back what you heard them say. No one feels more important and significant than when they have been listened to and the person listening recaps what they said.
JTH: Why is active listening so important?
HD: Data-wise, the average speech rate is 150-200 words per minute, and yet our brains process information and data at a rate of 600-1,000 words per minute. So it's so important, even more so, to be a great listener and to stop multitasking and actively listen.
JTH: Your point about our brain's ability to process information is critical. This is where our unconscious brain kicks-in to take shortcuts and our biases come into play. Any tips to avoid those traps?
HD: Yes, this juncture is critical. Stop thinking about what you want to say. Listen intently. Let go of all labels and filters you've put on people's foreheads to hear what they are saying. Maintain eye contact. Ask another question or reframe your original question to make sure they have fully explained their thoughts.
Consider asking people, "So, if I heard you correctly, this is what I heard you say?"
JTH: Any other listening tips?
HD: Don't forget to pay attention to your body language and eye contact, and let go of all distractions to be fully present. I challenge everybody for the next seven days to practice being a great listener and watch what it's like for the receiver. Pay attention to what's happening to the person you are listening to because there is nothing that feels better than truly being listened to.
In summary, imagine if senior executives at Uber and Google had been listening to what was happening in their diverse talent pool instead of allowing things to fester. If attracting, developing and retaining a diverse talent pool is critical to your company, ask yourself, “What are you doing today to create a culture that supports that mission?” Better yet, ask your employees and then listen to their stories and experiences to understand. It is time to listen up (down).
Jeffery Tobias Halter is a corporate gender strategist, the country’s leading expert on engaging men to advance women. Jeffery is the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company and the author of two books, including WHY WOMEN: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men.