"Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand."
— Karl A. Menninger
How much of your time do you really spend listening, in your personal life and in your professional life? Looking back at my career and life, and especially the past three years at Sprinklr, listening intently was a powerful catalyst for accelerating our great culture and unifying our employee experience.
Our approach — Listen, Learn, Act — changed everything! We were intentional about listening to our people and our customers ... and taking action. Matter of fact, when we were clear that we wanted to accelerate a culture where our people thrived personally and professionally, the first thing we did was to implement our Employee Delight Assurance Program (EDAP) where monthly, every leader asked each of their direct reports, “How happy are you on a scale of 1-10 and what are your three recommendations for being happier?” We summarized the themes and created specific actions every month to correspond with the top three areas to address. People quickly knew they were being heard and became increasingly honest and bold, knowing we would take action.
The majority of my day-to-day is spent listening — at work, I’m listening to our people and our customers. Personally, I’m listening to friends and family. Why? Listening and trying to fully understand is my best strategy for learning and broadening my perspective, as well as my best strategy for making a difference for people.
At Sprinklr, we have many forums for listening, including our heartbeat calls (daily calls with our immediate teams), Listening Forums, Town Halls, Employee Delight Assurance Program (EDAP), and confidential pulse surveys with the entire company, among others.
When you truly listen to the people around you, you unlock so many opportunities that you may not have thought possible on your own. Think of your favorite boss. I bet he/she was a great listener. Listening intently is what great leaders do!
Here are three listening strategies that all great leaders practice:
1. Create a safe, judgment-free zone built on trust.
When you create an environment of trust, people share openly about things they normally wouldn’t share. To do this in an authentic way, it’s important we refrain from judgment and simply listen. It’s important that we show vulnerability and authenticity ourselves so others know it’s a safe space. It’s on all of us to make people feel seen and heard.
The intent behind our Listening Forums is to listen, seek to understand, and not steer the conversation or answer questions. We've used them effectively in many key areas including women in leadership, Black Lives Matter, COVID, and so much more.
One unforgettable experience I had over a year ago was with our We Care: Black Collective team following the murder of George Floyd, about the Black Lives Matter movement. I will forever appreciate the vulnerability and the raw emotion that our people showed, giving me a glimpse into their pain and their lives. Their vulnerability was the catalyst for us to move forward together in a positive way.
Just today, I had another forever memorable experience. I reached out to set up a video call with someone I had never met and had heard great things about. I simply wanted to know her story and get to know her. I asked her to tell me about herself and she began to share about herself personally and professionally. As we were getting to know each other, I then shared that this past year had been my hardest, as my son Jordan had left this world to soar with the angels. I shared that Jordan lived a faithful, fearless, and beautiful life, as well as hard, because he had struggled with addiction. My newfound friend then had me in tears. She shared that she had been clean for six years and that her personal mission was to help others who struggle. This conversation was the highlight of my week. In 15 minutes, because we both allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, we bonded in such a deep way … the start of a friendship certain to only deepen over time.
Creating a culture of trust and building a space where everyone feels they are in a safe, judgment-free zone is everything in building a culture where everyone thrives.
2. Assume positive intent and seek to understand.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird
Creating a safe, judgment-free zone is only possible when you assume positive intent. Dig deep into what the other person may be thinking and feeling. Our CEO Ragy Thomas often says, “To create a true culture of belonging, we must connect ‘soul to soul.’” It really doesn’t get more powerful than that — how else will we get a glimpse into “a day in the life of someone else unlike ourselves?”
When you are listening, the best thing you can really do is “seek to understand.” How do you do that? You stay curious, learn from every conversation, and ask thoughtful questions to gain clarity. Start by assuming the person you are communicating with has positive intentions!
3. Follow up and take action.
“Tolerance and compassion are active, not passive states, born of the capacity to listen, to observe and to respect others.” – Indira Gandhi
When people share openly, they are taking a chance to become vulnerable with you and with the world. When they see they are heard and you move to meaningful action, everyone wins. And, make no mistake, people will follow you for life. As Theodore Roosevelt said so well, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Listening is the catalyst for action. Make listening your superpower by listening intently in a non-judgmental, authentic, and respectful way. You’ll enrich your life and the lives of others beyond what you could have ever imagined!