You made an appointment with your boss yesterday, and the meeting’s coming up in a few minutes. There’s a major problem with the project you’ve been working on for 3 months, and you need her guidance and feedback. After multiple weeks of everything going according to plan, you’ve discovered a critical quality flaw with one of the key components of the product. You already approached the supplier, but their quality tests haven’t turned up any issues. They believe that the problem lies in the interface with your system. Laura needs to hear about this.

You walk in… and Laura is distracted by her Blackberry at first and asks you to wait a few minutes. Eventually, she turns to you, but she seems unfocused. Then the phone rings; quickly, she gathers some materials, apologizes, and rushes off.

Where do you stand now? Your issue never got expressed. The problem remains unresolved and even feels magnified. You don’t really know how to proceed with the project. You feel kind of unimportant. You know Laura has other challenges she’s facing, but you had made an appointment, hoping for a few focused minutes. You wonder if you’ll get another meeting with Laura anytime soon. You wish your boss didn’t seem so remote.

These and other thoughts and feelings you are having… these are the same ones your colleagues and direct reports have when they are not “heard.” Listening and not listening have a real impact, and the impact compounds over time. You need to reflect no further than your personal experience to know that this is true. Your commitment to listen – or not – will eventually affect the productivity, creativity, engagement, and performance of your team.

Contrary to our common assumptions, effective listening is hard, and most of us do not do it well. It takes conscious effort to learn the skills and commit to practicing and building them. Consider this quick assessment to identify some of your areas for improvement, and then commit to action. There’s probably nothing you can do that will have more immediate and enduring impact on your relationships and leadership success.

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