“My boss says all the time now, ‘I hear you,’ when I’m telling them something.  But the problem is, do they really?  It feels like they’ve been on a leadership course, and this is something that they’re trained to say.  Is this the case?  Is that what you’re teaching people these days?”

I don’t blame her for being upset.  When I hear things like this, I want to bang my head against a wall.  It’s a perfect example of hearing something in a leadership class, and then applying it on autopilot as a box tick exercise.  People aren’t stupid, and they can always smell when someone isn’t being authentic and is just going through the motions.  I’ll just say the things they tell me to say.  And that will get the result I want.

Wrong.  Leadership skills aren’t meant to be a crash course in manipulation.  And even though I often say leadership is more about who you are being than what you are doing, there are still so many folks who show up to a course looking for a quick tip or trick that will miraculously transform a relationship without putting in the hard work.

The doing versus the being of listening

Let me explain what I mean by doing and being.

Doing – is about developing leadership skills and practising them until they form new habits. It takes persistence, practice, and hard work.  These could be skills pertaining to having feedback conversations, listening skills, performance conversations, delegating tasks, coaching, giving presentations, time management.  These are some of the skills related to successful leadership and we must practice them, as the more we practice the more leadership competency we build.  Practice makes better. 

Being – is a journey of leadership self-exploration. When we are more self-aware and accessing our Learner Mindset we can manage our well-being, build stronger relationships, innovate, and deliver higher performance levels.  Being is about how you are showing up.  Are you just going through the motions, or do you really care about your employees, the team, and the work product?  If you value things like integrity, is that visible to others in our behaviour?  Would others describe you as a person with a high degree of integrity?  The question I often ask leaders to explore this aspect of beingness is “Why on earth would anyone follow you?”  It’s meant to be provocative, because there is often a disconnect between how we want to be perceived and how our beingness is landing with others.

So back to my participant’s question.  One of the skills that I often illustrate is acknowledging and validating what you’re hearing another person say.  That goes way beyond parroting a phrase like, “I hear you.” 

Here’s what I said to that participant:  “It sounds to me that you’re frustrated.  And it makes perfect sense that you would be because I’m hearing that authenticity is important to you.  You wonder whether your boss is paying attention, or just parroting something they’ve been told to say.”

“Exactly!”  she responded.

“How listened to do you feel in this moment?”  I asked her.

“100 percent.  You get exactly my point.”

So here is the point I went on to make with that class.  To practice the skill of listening, you really HAVE to listen.  And quite often we listen only on a surface level. 

The three levels of listening

We listen at what I would call level 1 – we listen for facts.  Which is not wrong, but it’s limited.  With that participant, I was listening not just at level 1, but at level 2 – feelings, and 3 – intentions. 

I was listening for the underlying feeling in her question.  What was really bothering her.  I was also listening for intentions, or in other words, what was important to her.  And then I played both of those things back to her and validated what was important to her and how she felt.

That is what quality listening looks and sounds like.  And often we’re too busy and distracted to put the effort in to really do it.  To the extent we don’t, it’s a huge cost. 

Coaching questions for thought:

  • How would you rate the quality of your listening?
  • Which levels do you typically listen at?
  • What would be the benefit of tuning in at a deeper level?  How would this improve the quality of our connections?

Shelley Pernot is a career and leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their talents and step into their greatness.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!

  1. Maria Rohrbacher September 15, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you for sharing my experience and outlying it more. People are people, and sometimes you need to be reminded that leading isn’t scripted. “Leadership skills aren’t meant to be a crash course in manipulation”. That really resonates for me.

  2. Shelley Pernot September 15, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    You’re welcome Maria! I really enjoyed having you in the session!