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By truly listening, you say a lot to senior leaders

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Shane R. Wagner
  • 387th Air Expeditionary Group
All too often I look back on my career and think of all the lessons and advice I received but did not really listen to. More often than not, when I was having a conversation with a senior leader, I was more concerned with what to say rather than listening to the message. More and more I encounter individuals who want to ensure they are speaking intelligently to a senior leader, and rightfully so, but they miss pearls of wisdom, advice or even the actual message itself.

Why is it that some of us do not realize this until late in our careers? I cannot state it more eloquently than saying, “Effective listening is an art.” Many of us learn this late in our career, probably associated with getting older and having more experience or mentorship from others. What is unknown to most new leaders is that you are more likely to leave a good impression with someone if you are listening effectively and internalizing the message they are delivering.

Effective listening is a topic discussed in many professional military leadership lessons, but rarely are there actual practical exercises to improve listening techniques, thus many of us fall into the trap of trying to solve the problem or issue immediately and miss the message completely.

What do I mean by this? I am saying that many of us do not listen to the whole message. We don’t process it or let it mature in our minds in order to ensure all the facts are just that, facts, and then produce a well thought out message or response.

More often than not, we are actively thinking of a solution from the limited data we gather in the first portions of a conversation in an attempt to provide an immediate solution or idea. However, when we respond with this limited information or without hearing the message, the experienced senior leader will key in almost instantly on the fact the main point of his or her message was missed. That is a message in itself.

I’ve heard it said that problem-solvers are a dime a dozen, but active listeners who are thoughtful and deliberate are rare. This is a message I’ve taken to heart.

The majority of new leaders fail to remain silent and listen, and most do not realize it (I did not when I was coming up in the ranks). Being quiet and listening will say and impress a person more than a rapid, half thought-out response. However, you cannot just sit there and be quiet; you have to listen and process the message and paraphrase it in your mind.

You should repeat what you gathered back to the sender and ask if you have the facts in order. This will allow both your conscious and unconscious mind to review the information and extract the important facts, the lesson, or advice and to begin to formulate your opinion on the subject or to ask for more data. You will deliver a well thought out response.

Our leadership achieved their current positions for a reason; they possess the experience, obtained the trust of other leaders, and were selected from a pool of very competent Air Force members. The personal and professional experiences they share with us are a gift, so take my advice; listen well. You might surprise yourself with what you actually hear and what you will learn.