Listening to Lead: Crush assumptions through active listening

By Jay Perry

I was recently interviewed for a podcast on leadership. One of the points I emphasized to the audience was that there is far too much assumption within the way companies operate, and it starts with its leaders.

Making assumptions is a source of all kinds of waste including time, money, energy, resources and morale. Think of one of the most common assumptions—that we understand what the customer is asking for. It is easy for this to happen as we are experts in our respective fields, so they express a concern in an area then we assume we completely understand them and proceed with a solution that eventually is shown to be in the wrong vein.

The same thing happens in our day-to-day interactions with our people. We assume that we are all on the same page, only to later find out someone totally misunderstood and has been working and wasting resources of time and effort in the wrong area.

This leads to frustration, which in turn can lead to the morale I spoke of earlier, being reduced. This assumption happens every day, all day and it is part of the leader’s job to eliminate it and its subsequent waste from the organization. So how do we do this?

Leadership listening, also known as active listening, as I’ve spoken about in previous columns, is the single most powerful communication tool a leader can use. This is where we get everyone on the same page by first assuring them and ourselves that our understanding is uniform and in harmony.

Rephrase back to someone what you understand them to be saying is fundamental to the technique. Practicing is what can eliminate more than 50 percent of assumption within your day, thus reducing the above-mentioned waste.

The other 50 percent to be eradicated comes from our effort in being sure that people truly understand the mission and their personal part in its success. This is done by having them rephrase back to you their understanding of what you are expecting them to do.

Here is where assumption comes up and bites us; most people do not clarify their expectations. They commonly assume that the other person understands—after all, they are professionals, right?

Yes, they are professionals, but they are also subjective humans, which means they interpret what they hear. Thus, potentially leading to wrong directions being taken.

Look for it showing up in your day-to-day and I’ll bet you will find many more than one time per day when this assumption is present. Put extra effort into recapping to someone your understanding and work on ascertaining their understanding so you can reduce this course of waste within your organization. It is another way to ensure that you are the one who’s driving.

Jay Perry is the founder of Ally Business Coaching, a process improvement and leadership development firm, and co-author of the book Success Manifesto with Brian Tracy. Jay is also an education partner with California Coast University in Santa Ana, California. He can be reached at jayperryally@gmail.com.

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