Non-Profit Leadership: The Listening HUG

Group of young creative people at work is enjoying a meeting in a pleasant atmosphere in the office with their charming elderly female boss

One of my constant questions to ask is, “How different would our world be if every parent really took the time to listen to their kids?” What would our families be like? How would our juvenile justice and mental health systems be different? How much human service expense would we save as a country if our kids were heard? How would education be different? The list goes on!

I could ask similar questions about our non-profit organizations. I find that so many organizations struggle with communication, including the one I supervise. It is a constant battle to take the time to listen to employees, and even when we do it is easy to miss some very important facts.

As a safeguard to better listening I want to borrow from the parenting and trauma training of our organization about effective communication. We use the acronym, HUG to remember what a good process of listening is. Rarely does anyone say what is on their mind authentically in the initial comments that they use with their leader. It takes some active listening and some effort of working through the communication process to actually get to the real meaning of what someone is attempting to convey.

Active Listening Skills write on a book

The H stands for hearing. This is that active listening process where we use listening statements to evoke clarity in what they are attempting to say. We really need to be deliberate and use listening statements like “it sounds like…” or “what I am hearing you say is…” so that they have the opportunity to clarify what they mean to communicate.

The U stands for Understanding. As we listen we need to gain insight into what some of the nuances are that they are communicating to us.  Again, we use phrases like, “so what I am understanding is…” so they know that your interpretation of what they are saying is accurate.

Finally, the G stands for giving back. Once we feel we have heard and understood it is important for a leader to articulate very specifically what the communication process or even a simple phrase has meant. If we are able to describe what was stated, then both parties can validate that the content conveyed was accurate.

I know this sounds like a lengthy process but quite honestly it saves time because we learn to communicate accurately rather than misunderstanding which happens if we are not taking the time to be thorough in our listening, awareness, insight and understanding.

puzzle jigsaw concept problem/solution word pieces

This type of communication invites feedback, builds trust, improves relationships and helps us to be authentic and capable about how we work together to resolve conflicts and/or solve problems. It is vital to our leadership to foster good communication and this little acronym of HUG can be a significant tool to help non-profit leaders remember to listen thoroughly.

Gerry Vassar


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