On Transformational Listening
I have met dozens of excellent Environment, Health, and Safety professionals over the years, and some stand out to me as truly extraordinary leaders. One of the skills that make them stand out is their ability to listen. Some safety leaders listen so well that they lift people up, encourage them, and help them bring their very best thinking to the table. I call this transformational listening.
I think about my client Jim. When I met Jim, he was Vice President of Safety, Health & Environment at a mid-sized energy company. Without saying a word, Jim could make a person feel like the smartest person in the room. He gave people his absolute, undivided attention for extended periods of time. His body was calm as he concentrated on their words. With the simplest question, Jim could build a person’s confidence and inspire deeper thought. With each word they spoke during a meeting with Jim, people sat taller and became more engaged. Jim’s team took great pride in bringing their best thinking to their meetings. Jim’s ability to listen became his signature trait: He was known for it and he used it to help transform his EHS professionals from an ordinary team to a highly efficient and effective group.
It occurs to me that there is a natural tension between the value of listening and the need to be heard. In business, being heard often leads to promotions, recognition, and advancement. To be heard is validating and makes us feel powerful. But to be truly effective in any role, and especially in leadership roles, we must be able to create that experience for others.
I would like to see more leaders develop and practice their transformational listening skills. The following exercises can help you get started.
Two exercises to assess and develop your transformational listening skills.
- Record a short conversation, transcribe it yourself, and then read it back: How often do you discover that a person had said something other than what you remember hearing? Practicing this will improve your listening skills.
- Record a short conversation on video and watch it back.
- Did your body language say, “You are the most important person in the room right now?” Did it say something else?
- Did your questions encourage or discourage the other person?
- What happened to the person’s energy level as the conversation developed?
Repeat the exercise while experimenting with your body language and question techniques. Observe the impact on your partner.
 See Krause, T.R. & Bell, K.J. (2015). 7 Insights into Safety Leadership. Ojai, CA.: Safety Leadership Institute. See also Krause, T.R. (2005). Leading With Safety. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Both available at www.krausebellgroup.com