Active Listening is a Key Skill When Problem Solving

Problem-solving is most likely part of your daily life, especially at work. 

Many of my clients, who are top leaders, receive 360 feedback stating that they need to solve problems more collaboratively instead of in a silo.  Through the coaching process we discover that these leaders are operating in a silo for several reasons.  They feel an enormous amount of pressure to always have all the answers.  According to them, their reputation will suffer if they show even the slightest doubt or lack of knowledge.  Another reason for failing to collaborate is because they don’t know how to use active listening skills.  So, they automatically default to finding solutions on their own or forcing their opinion on to others, which bypasses the collaborative process. 

One of my clients trained herself to quickly come up with solutions whenever she was presented with problems.  Then she simply let her team know what solution they needed to implement.  She left them completely out of the problem-solving process and claimed that it was in the interest of time.  While it’s true that in business time is of the essence, that is no excuse to bypass collaboration.  That’s not to say that there aren’t times when a leader must make an executive decision.  But, for the most part, your team should be empowered to assist with creating solutions.  My client was given feedback that she moved too fast and excluded her team from important discussions.  Not only that, but she also didn’t help the team understand the logic in any of her decisions.  They felt like they were simply “order-takers.”

Collaborative problem solving is difficult because it involves sorting through complex dynamics, various personalities, differing opinions, and sometimes conflict.  However, the entire process will have a much better outcome if you develop active listening skills.

Active listening requires that you suspend your own ideas and judgement until you first hear from others. 

This is counterintuitive to the way most leaders operate.  However, contrary to popular practice, as a leader you are not expected to have all the answers.  But you are expected to motivate, empower, and engage others so they may have a voice.  Active listening does just that and it also positions you as a leader with empathy.

When problem-solving with others do you tend to jump in right away with your opinion?  Do you base your solution on a past problem that was similar?  Do you quickly weigh all the pros and cons in your head, voice a solution, and expect others to ‘keep up’ with your thought process?  As the group is brainstorming are you formulating your response before they even stop talking?  If you have these habits, then you are not practicing active listening.

Active listening involves the process of staying focused, eliminating distractions, suspending judgement, clarifying, and summarizing.  I’m not implying that these steps are easy, as a matter of fact, each step requires practice.  Much of this practice can take place during coaching sessions by preparing for real scenarios and then debriefing afterward.  When my clients use active listening, they can create more synergy, cohesiveness, and faster solutions with teams and individuals.  This relationship-building skill also helps leaders display more empathy, creativity, and open-mindedness toward others.  Plus, listening more and talking less takes the pressure off the leader to have all the solutions.  It also allows their coworkers and direct reports to develop important critical thinking skills.  

Problem-solving should never take place in a silo.  If you are a leader, step away from the traditional mindset that says you must provide all the solutions.  Instead, facilitate a process that involves active listening and watch your level of competence soar.  

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