It is so rare these days to find leaders who are skilled listeners. There are those who seem to master the outward appearance of listening, but who, in truth, see the act as a passive tool to help people feel like they are being heard. The end result of this type of leader is often more damaging than the interrupter, who cuts you off and tells you what you are thinking or how you should feel. At least in that case you know you aren’t being heard.
Leaders often complain that when people say that they want to “be heard” it is synonymous with “do what I ask” and I can certainly understand that. When someone comes to a leader to complain, it is often about other people or discomfort with changes in the culture. Either way, the leader is unlikely to be able to do anything about it as the changes were most likely strategic and the “other people” probably not the real problem.
In many situations like this, leaders only look at the problem that the direct report is bringing to them. The result is often that they feel impatient with the complainer and want to talk over them, cut them off and shut them down. Unfortunately, this can lead people to feel disregarded and unsupported.
My recommendation is that you separate the problem into two buckets.
Listen for the emotional problem (example: I feel like Debbie over in Accounting doesn’t respect what I do) and separate it from the practical problem (example: I can’t give you this report until I hear back from Debbie about the numbers). Sometimes just acknowledging the feeling without placing blame (example: I know how frustrating it can be when you need information right away, and you’ve been under a lot of pressure to get this done). Once the emotion is named, then you can deal with the logical problem (why hasn’t Debbie responded?). If you try to leap over the emotional problem and just get to the problem-solving place, you will find that the other person will be unwilling to be a partner in solving the problem. In all likelihood, he will work hard to prove to you that the problem is really Debbie. Sometimes these conversations take on dramatic and bizarre turns (ex: She wants the company to fail!).
Avoid these issues by learning to listen carefully to not only the words but the tone and the emotion behind them. Separate the two (emotional and logical) and then name the former before tackling the latter. If it is only an emotional problem, then you need to name that and move one.
Regardless, the key is to listen carefully and reflect back what you hear before moving on to getting to your solution. You will find these conversations less frustrating, more productive and less confusing as a whole.
Listening is active, not passive and has the benefit of creating an environment where employees feel “heard” and are respected.