The power of emotional listening: To help leaders build emotional resilience during difficult times

Are you really listening, asks Ally Nathaniel.

When it comes to leadership and managing employees, listening is the most critical skill managers should acquire, especially during times of uncertainty and crisis.

There is plenty of information about listening out there and some good advice, but listening to employees and using ’emtional listening’ as a leadership tool is underestimated. Listening well will not only help you become a better leader but will transform many other aspects of your life.

When you become a better listener, you also learn to listen to yourself, which means connecting to your inner wisdom and gaining access to creative and timely solutions.

Emotional listening is the ability to hear beyond the words so you understand the real meaning of what is being said. It will prompt the person in front of you to connect to their inner wisdom and therefore come up with a creative solution.

Emotional listening is the ability to notice nonverbal cues, connect with others from an authentic place, and trust their thinking, knowing they have the answer within them. And it is also about knowing what to say or what not to say, so you can create trust and, therefore, a safe space to express new ideas, thoughts, and emotions.

The more you can listen, the better [your workforce] can function and adapt to new conditions or circumstances.

In his book ‘Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness’, Robert Greenleaf says: “I have seen enough remarkable transformations in people who have been trained to listen to have some confidence in this approach. It is because true listening builds strengths in other people.”

Emotional listening is the foundation for helping your employees and yourself develop emotional resilience and, therefore, adjust quickly to new situations. Although we are all born with this ability, many of us stray from it due to lack of personal examples from parents, teachers, and bosses and therefore need to re-acquire that skill.

On top of that, there’s a false notion that emotions and work don’t go hand in hand. The problem with that is that employees are humans, and humans have feelings. They carry those emotions with them wherever they go, including the workplace.

Therefore it is the leaders’ job to learn how to manage employees’ emotions by listening well in a way that will allow safety and promote flexible thinking and productivity.

How does listening well lead to building emotional resilience in employees?

Since emotional resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises, we now know people are not only creative thinkers but have the answers within them. All you need to do as a leader is to create a safe space for them to think out loud. The more you can listen, the better they can function and adapt to new conditions or circumstances.

Here are a few steps to becoming an emotional-listener

  1. Be present. Express genuine interest in the other person. Look them in the eyes and be as relaxed as possible. Showing interest will allow you to build trust and encourage openness. Do not interrupt, and don’t make suggestions or try to fix anything. Be there for your employee. Being listened to allows people to come up with solutions to problems because they feel safe and cared for.
  2. Don’t try to solve the problem. Think of listening as something that allows the other person to brainstorm with themselves out loud. The purpose here is to help them clear their mind. To help them get rid of the emotional charge that clouds their thinking. People have endless creativity, and by listening, you allow them to gain access to both their creativity and intelligence, which means flexible thinking.
  3. Acknowledge feelings. Humans have emotions, and those emotions get activated as we get triggered by a present event. For example: if a child raised her hand in the classroom, gave the wrong answer, and was humiliated for that in front of the whole class, she might link answering with humiliation and try to avoid it (unawarely). When she grows up and becomes an employee, she might be asked to come up with a solution to a problem (answer). In that case, the fear of humiliation will cloud her thinking, and she’ll freeze. She’ll be unable to perform as expected. By listening well and letting her know she’s safe, and there are no right or wrong answers, you acknowledge her feelings and allow her to go back to her natural creative state.
  4. Find a listening partner. This will allow you to gain access to your own flexible and creative thinking. This partnership is about mutual emotional listening. Look at it as the maintenance you need to support your employees. I recommend you meet with your listening partner once a week and split the time. First, you listen for 15 or 30 minutes, and then you are being listened to. That not only trains your listening muscle but serves as a leadership tool to support your team.

As the workplace changes and remote-work is the new reality, managing people becomes more challenging. Emotional-Listening is key to support employees and the new challenges they face.


About the author:

Ally Nathaniel is a leadership and EQ consultant who specialises in building emotional resilience.



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