Ask Two More – Listening Leadership
by Emergent Leader Graduate Leah Abel
Three simple words in Emergent Leader have transformed the way that I lead.
“Ask two more.”
I think I have solid instincts. I think I am empathetic enough to read people pretty well. I’ve been told I am insightful and give good feedback and advice. I used to think that I was a good listener. A painful and important lesson that I learned in Emergent Leader is that I tended to listen like the autocorrect feature on my phone. Listening until I got just enough information to fill in the blanks for myself. I assumed that I knew what the other person was going to say next. I finished people’s sentences. I assumed that I understood what they meant just because I heard the first words that they said.
I knew all those basic lessons about paraphrasing what the other person has said and repeating it back to them so that they know they’ve been heard. Yeah, I knew a lot of such things, but that didn’t mean I was doing what was most important to do: listen. I have listened far too often to respond and problem solve, rather than listening to listen.
In the midst of a training piece on giving feedback, I gained valuable new tools. We were challenged to give time and space and ask more questions to better understand and dig deeper into the real issues.
Thanks to that training piece and the cohort conversations that occurred around it, I have a new practice now. When I think I understand what a person has said or is trying to communicate, before I respond with any statements, instructions, or opinions of my own, I force myself to ask 2 more questions and listen to the responses.
Recently, I found myself exceedingly frustrated by the communication that I was receiving from a colleague. As I read the email messages being sent by this person about the project we were working on, I found myself moving from frustration to anger.
“She is dissatisfied with my work.”
“She doesn’t trust me.”
“Clearly she thinks she could do this job better.”
“She doesn’t appreciate the sacrifices that I am making to meet her deadlines.”
“She has unhealthy work boundaries and expects that I practice the same.”
After a couple of weeks of this, I had the opportunity to sit down with this person. I knew that I needed to address the work and the relationship with the colleague. I had a lot of assumptions about what this person thought about me and my work. As I sat down, reminded myself to listen well and be genuinely curious. Each of us had prepared a list of items that needed to be covered and as we worked through each agenda item, I forced myself to “ask two more.” As we addressed each item, rather than assuming I understood the opinions of my colleague and her desired outcomes, I asked at least two questions about her understanding of the item and the challenges that we were facing.
It was both eye opening and relationship-mending. This person was not displeased with my contribution to the project, but rather facing their own challenges with their direct reports. This person did feel that aspects of the project needed improvement and that some of those improvements were my responsibility and trusted that I was already working on those improvements.
As a daily reminder to listen more and ask two more, the sign in the picture hangs in my office. I still struggle to slow down and listen on a daily basis, but the simple practice of “ask 2 more” continues to make me more effective in ministry.
Leah Abel is an Emergent Leader “graduate” with a passion for helping people develop powerful ideas and move them into effective real life implementation. After serving the Church as a Director of Christian Education for 17 years, she now assists organizations and individuals to move from ideas to action as an independent project manager, meeting planner, and ministry facilitator.