This is the second installment of the Communication Series on the Aurum Blog.
Part 1 is focused on creating greater connection on a team
In the previous post, we discussed the significance of creating authentic human relationships on a team. The way we create genuine connection and understanding between people is by being fully present and available for the interaction. Communication is a back and forth flow of verbal and non-verbal cues between people, with listening being half, (or more), of that transaction.
The term "Levels of Listening" was coined by the Co-Active Coaching Institute, and has become a well-loved and used model to improve the quality of our listening. In this post, we elaborate the model to include the 3 Levels of Speaking, in addition to the Levels of Listening.
The Three Levels
Much of what happens in conversations and relationships hinges on the quality of our presence with and attention on others. In leadership, being aware of who we are being and/or how we are communicating is an important skill in relationship building and landing our message. How we speak and how well we listen have a powerful effect on the field, the room, and our relationships with one another.
The principle of the Three Levels applies to both listening and speaking and can be described simply this way:
The Three Levels of Listening
Especially in leadership roles, we often focus on communicating and expressing, and forget about the power of genuine listening. Listening does more than help us take in information and gain valuable insight into what is happening in different aspects of a company, team, or project. The very act of listening (or not listening) significantly impacts the relationship(s) within any group endeavor. The way people are listened to impacts what they share, how much they disclose, their ability to come up with creative solutions, and their sense of value and importance.
In this model, there are three different levels of listening, each one with a different impact on both the person speaking and the listener. Which of the following 3 levels do you do most often?
What if we told you that there is one secret ingredient that would dramatically improve your team’s performance, would eliminate hours of wasted time, and significantly reduce the energy spent on politics and drama? What if that ONE element required no advanced degrees or training, and could be added with simple steps that fit into your existing workflow. Would you do it?
As we read through the expanding body of research about high-performance teams, and participate in the collective conversation about the new world of work, we see that at the heart of keeping a team working well is CONNECTION.
When we work online, there tends to be a focus on efficiency and getting things done. Nobody wants to linger on Zoom longer than necessary, and the medium itself limits our capacities to connect. It’s harder to feel one another, our bodies and minds numb out from being static for so long, and spontaneous social chit-chat is clumsy.
Now, while remote work has its challenges, no doubt, we also risk over-romanticizing life in the office. While there are more opportunities for organic moments of contact and 'creative collisions' when physically inhabiting the same office space, it does not mean people are actually feeling connected.
What we mean by connection is a warmth and sense of shared humanity. It engenders fundamental goodwill and a sense of mutual reliance with the other person. Creating this kind of genuine, human-to-human connection requires attention and a safe space that invites vulnerability, honesty, creativity and laughter. At the end of our retreats, invariably someone says something to the effect of, “I thought we were doing OK, but now I feel so much more connected to you guys!”
We often hear that the concept of connection is relegated to the "soft skills" department, but the truth is that the sense of connection is vitally important for effective communication, learning, and producing results. As Adam Smiley Poswolsky describes in the Harvard Business Review, the challenge of employees feeling disconnected at work has enormous cost: "In the wake of the pandemic and the vast shift to flexible work from anywhere policies, 65% of workers say they feel less connected to their coworkers. Employee disconnection is one of the main drivers of voluntary turnover, with lonely employees costing U.S. companies up to $406 billion a year. Research by Cigna shows that lonely employees have a higher risk of turnover, lower productivity, more missed days at work, and lower quality of work."
What they don't tell you when you get that promotion...
We often think of leadership as something that is given to us – as a job, a position, a role that gives us permission to lead others. In reality, merely getting the new office or job title rarely provides the secret sauce that creates instant authority and respect. When someone gets promoted or hired into a leadership role, they often focus on their areas of responsibility and the task at hand. But over time, they begin to wonder whether or not they are actually being effective as leaders.
Think of yourself at work, especially when you are new to the role. Do people listen to you? Are your suggestions being respected and followed? Do you get bogged down in itty bitty details? What is your level of stress? Are you always right? Are your team members honest with you about their mistakes and learning?
The answers to these questions aren’t found in your job description. It has nothing to do with being in technology, construction, education or finance, or even your title, but it does have something to do with YOU. What people respond to the most is the quality of your Inner Leadership.
Role-based vs. Inner Leadership
Role-based leadership is the job title and institutional authority that are granted to someone when they are introduced as a leader with a specific scope of responsibility. This leadership role can be given or taken away, and is generally defined by the organization's needs. The role may require certain abilities, but there is no guarantee that you have them.
Inner Leadership, on the other hand, is the domain of who you are as a human being and how you are showing up. It illustrates how you engage with others, and the level of inner authority and authenticity you bring to work. It’s about how much you trust yourself and others, your willingness to learn, find solutions and move forward. These are inner qualities that arise from within you which cannot be given or taken away. However, inner leadership can be actively cultivated and supported - or squashed.
Often we expect or hope the role will magically give us the leadership qualities we know we need. “If I had the title/role/degree I would feel confident” or “If I was the manager, people would listen to me!” While the role may provide a certain institutional authority, it rarely creates inner leadership. For that, we need to do inner work and develop internal, relational skills.
Over many years of leading, training, and coaching, we have distilled a list of the 8 most important elements of Inner Leadership. Focusing your attention on developing any of these areas will dramatically increase your effectiveness, regardless of your role or position.
The Essential Elements of Inner Leadership
1. Know Yourself
Know your strengths. Know your weaknesses. Own both.
Being transparent about both invites others to do the same, increases team cohesion and safety, enhances creativity and invites others to show up fully.
Understand the inside/outside principle and that people will react to your behavior, not your intention.
What we don’t see and own ends up negatively impacting others, our relationships, and our trustworthiness. What we don’t own and talk about, others will - especially in leadership.
2. Embody Authenticity & Integrity
Being authentic and real is compelling. Being in integrity is empowering. Focus on being trustworthy rather than evaluating others.
Do what you say you will do and take responsibility when you don’t.
Say yes, and follow through - or say no, with respect. Honor your agreements, honor other people, and honor your word.
Devi Cavitt Razo and Deepika Sheleff are co-founders of Aurum Leadership. They are also close friends who have dedicated their lives to creating powerful, honest, resilient relationships.