How to be an effective listener

As mayor of Calgary it’s Naheed Nenshi’s job to know what’s going on with his constituents. That means a lot of conversations—and a lot of listening

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.

It’s the job of Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi to know what’s going on with his constituents, which means a lot of conversations—and a lot of listening. Here’s what he’s learned from hearing all kinds of feedback from constituents:

“In my job, I have to be ‘on’ all the time. Every trip to the grocery store becomes a town hall meeting on public transit in that neighbourhood. I love it, and we in Canada are so lucky that we live in a place where we can just talk to people in positions of political authority. But if you’re having a tough day, and you just want get through that checkout line and get home with your ice cream, for a second you think, Do I really have to talk to this person? I always have to remind myself that that’s the deal.

“Besides, what’s the alternative, exactly? Am I going to go out in a hat and sunglasses so nobody recognizes me? That’s much worse. If you’re a leader, you’ve rented yourself out to your community, if you will, and it is absolutely people’s right to come and talk to you about this stuff. And, invariably, having a conversation with that person in the checkout line, or wherever it may be, makes me better at what I do.

“A lot of my work before entering politics was in consumer-facing industries, and that experience helps me as mayor—because as a manager, you have to really understand the people who work for you. And that means connecting with people. The answer for me is always: Why not talk to people? Why not ask them what inspires them, what parts of their job they like and don’t like, and how they can add more value in the organization. Leaders in any line of work can do a lot by really listening.”