I was listening to talk by Jonathan Foust (Body Centered Inquiry), for a course I am taking. In it he speaks of “non-fixing” listening. This really captured my interest as much for me as for my clients (and probably lots of other human beings).
As the focus of my work is organizations and leadership teams, I have been exploring how this applies to my work. For me and so many of my clients, we were promoted because we knew how to fix or improve things. In fact, many of us have made a career of fixing things, as in business turnarounds and transformations. This is important work and I don’t want to dismiss this set of extremely valuable skills. Fixing and improving is always going to be an important role for leaders and teams.
But when we are working with our teams it is important to really understand what they need and what our intention is. So often what people need from leaders is their presence, their listening and their coaching so they can solve it themselves or with their team. They may not want or need us to “fix” it for them. They may really want to figure it out themselves. If what they need from us is our listening, and through that demonstrating our care, and we try to solve it, we should pause to ask who we are really helping (or hurting).
If your strong intention as a leader is to help others grow and develop (and I hope it is), the less you do their job for them, the better. What they may most need from you is to listen without trying to fix. They may need you to remain open and curious. They may need help to envision what is possible, and what they might do to bring greater clarity to or fix the situation. They may need to know, through your listening and not trying to fix (whatever), that you believe and have confidence in them.
If someone is newly promoted, new to their role, still developing crucial skills, or lacking the requisite confidence, they may need different, more involved coaching from you. And sometimes people do need clear direction from leaders, for all sorts of reasons.
What I am really trying to say is that, as a leader, you bring immense value in being fully present with others and through that, demonstrating your care and confidence. I know it can be hard! But if you want your team to truly flourish, you need to apply the right tool to the situation. It’s really true, if we see every problem as a nail, we pull out the hammer. But sometimes what is most skillful is an open, curious presence, a smile, a few thoughtful questions and a message of support.
If it sounds too easy, and you feel uncomfortable, pay attention. Consider if the way you want to respond is because it’s “what you like/know how to do”, or if it is motivated by what the other person really needs. For many of us, “non-fixing” listening is challenging. We like to fix everything! As I tell clients (and myself), “sit down, strap yourself in, attend to your breath and listen.” You may be surprised at what happens when you really listen without trying to fix.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 20 years ago to help companies advance their leadership and people systems. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.