It is often said that successful change in the workplace requires buy-in from the people who work there. And that, unfortunately, people resist change. However, I don’t believe for a moment that most people resist change. What most people do resist – and I include myself, and I imagine you as well – is change that either doesn’t make sense to them, or that threatens them in some way.
Buy-in is a misleading word, though it accurately captures how change initiatives land on those who are expected to undergo the change. It implies that you try to sell something to them. A more powerful approach is to create a sense of being in it together – by inviting your people to co-create the change. That feels more like a handshake. And it motivates and engages people to participate in change that is meaningful for them.
The promise of deep listening
In our work with organisations we teach and facilitate this kind of change process. One that starts with vision and that allows people to share what they are passionate about, what their priorities are, and what they would do differently. The key leadership skill that is vital for this kind of co-creation to work is deep listening.
Deep listening goes beyond what someone says.
- It doesn’t end with assessing whether something is new or “just an old complaint” (and therefore, somehow, less relevant).
- It goes beyond listening for facts so as to sort them into right or wrong, justified and not justified, more or less useful.
- You know that you are listening deeply when you are trying to understand the person who sends the message, when you get curious and compassionate.
Listening deeply makes you wonder:
- What does the world look like from their perspective?
- How do they make sense of the current situation?
- What assumptions do they have?
- What emotions do their messages transport?
- What values and guiding principles?
- Are they honestly and openly sharing their perspective?
- What do they need in order to feel safe to speak up, to own up to mistakes, to try something that they might fail at?
- What makes them feel that they are valued and belong?
- What would they most like to be different?
Going beyond disbelief
Sometimes hearing someone’s perspectives is puzzling, and that often comes as a surprise. But if you think about it, it shouldn’t be surprising at all: You have a different perspective than all of the people you lead and co-lead with. You have had different experiences and hold different values, and you perceive and hear things differently than anyone else. That makes you see different things and draw different conclusions than others in the same room with you. You literally look into the world through your unique lens. And so do they. To co-lead change, you need to start seeing the world from different perspectives, so as to put the puzzle of perspectives together and to see a broader picture than before.
Here’s how to test yourself whether you have listened deeply or not: When you are mostly sitting with what confirmed or disconfirmed what you already knew before, or when you are mostly focused on what was new and what you’ve heard before, then that is an indicator that you haven’t yet listened deeply. When you find yourself in wonder, that is an indicator that you have listened deeply and that something is shifting for you.
Why deep listening makes all the difference
The ability to see the broader picture is what makes deep listening so powerful a leadership capacity. To go deeper and deeper in understanding perspectives which are not ours. Somewhere within all the different perspectives lies the way forward: the co-creating of a shared vision and the alignment around how to move towards that vision.