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Habits of an agile servant leader – Habit 3: Deep Listening & Observing

Following our last article about the second habit Empathy and Compassion for Scrum Masters, we’ll look at the third habit that is important to them as agile servant leaders: Deep Listening and Observing. In this article, let’s look at Deep Listening and Observing together in terms of what this habit is about, how beneficial this habit is to agile software development environment, and handy tips for Scrum Masters to become better at listening and observing deeply.

Habits of an agile servant leader – Habit 3: Deep Listening & Observing
Habits of an agile servant leader – Habit 3: Deep Listening & Observing

Deep Listening and Observing – A skill crucial yet lacked among today’s leaders

On the one hand, a servant-leader is an “empathic person able to truly listen”. On the other hand, “a great Scrum Master will also listen carefully to what is not said“ and intend to understand their team.

However, nowadays “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”.

As a matter of fact, modern-day leaders are bombarded by an increased level of distractions, information, and busyness, which makes them multitask. Being too busy and multitasking rob agile leaders the ability to focus, prioritize, and connect.

However, in his book Scrum, the Scrum co-inventor Jeff Sutherland quoted a study showing sharp productivity decrease for every task added to the current workload, saying “Multitasking makes you stupid”.

Weinberg table of project switching waste
Multitasking, another term for “project-switching” and “context-switching”, does more harm than good. In this chart cited by Jeff Sutherland, the loss to multitasking (in orange) rockets for every task added.

Therefore, in order to succeed, it’s important for agile servant-leaders to slow down and focus on one thing at the time. Deep Listening and Observing is the very habit that provides room for agile servant-leaders to do exactly this. Listening and focusing deeply, indeed, allows agile servant-leaders to pause and see themselves and others in a better light – especially things that are not overtly expressed.

“Listening, coupled with periods of reflection, is essential to the growth and well-being of the servant leader.”

listen with love

Benefits of Deep Listening and Observing to agile servant-leaders

Benefit 1: Manage work better

Many generations of researchers show that those who are able to listen and observe deeply manage their work much more effectively thanks to improved concentration.

This means, if a Scrum Master can truly listen and observe themselves and others, they are likely to deliver better performance themselves and positively influence the performance of the Scrum team. (Read on to see with what state of mind can one make deep listening and observing their second nature.)

Benefit 2: Heal Scrum team on a personal level

In their talk at the Agile2014, an Agile Alliance’s annual conference, Certified Scrum Coaches Michael Sahota and Olaf Lewitz showed that Deep Listening brings transformation and healing to Scrum teams.

“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. […] You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.” ~ Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Benefit 3: Transform troubled Scrum team interactions

Because Deep Listening heals and transforms everyone on a personal level, it takes down communication barriers in daily team interactions and encourages everyone in the Scrum team to open up and share creative ideas. This is crucial for continuous improvement – an important process in Scrum.

With time, Deep Listening and Observing brings a breath of fresh air to Scrum team dynamics. Thanks to hard feelings being wholesomely recognized and expressed, agile servant-leaders like Scrum Masters transform their effectiveness in Agile work process.

Benefit 4: Increase Mindfulness and Compassion of an agile servant leader

If you’ve already read Awareness and Mindfulness (Habit 1), you know that deep listening and observing enhances Scrum Masters’ mindfulness at work – which saves them considerable amounts of time typically spent on meetings and emails.

Moreover, together with the first habit, deep listening and observing also improves Scrum Masters’ empathy and compassion (Habit 2), which is important for the Scrum Masters’ servant leadership skills.

be kind whenever possible. it is always posible
Reproduced from Random Acts of Kindness (n.d.)

How to listen and observe deeply

different levels of listening

Studies have shown that one can only listen and observe deeply with a clear and calm mind. A clear and calm mind enables one to listen to one’s inner voice and reinforce their commitment to listen intently to others.

Researchers also found that one can easily have a clear and calm mind after a good night sleep or a session of mindfulness practice (the first habit) – something that brings a person back to and embraces whatever happens in the present moment. That’s why while deeply listening, one can be “more focused”, “aware of both the content and “music”, listening for ‘foreground’ and ‘background'” when in a conversation with someone else.

listen in a new light - mindfully

Tips to cultivate Deep Listening and Observing

A principle underpinning the Agile Manifesto emphasizes face-to-face conversation as “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team”. It is to say that, to cultivate the habit of Deep Listening and Observing effectively, especially in software development, agile servant-leaders should opt for the direct mode of communication.

How can a person deeply listen, observe, and connect with someone without seeing them in person and truly being there for them?

Below are some handy tips Scrum Masters can practice to get better at deep listening every day.

Tips to become better listeners

Bonus points to broaden your horizon

1. Five Ways To Listen Better

The TED talk is delivered by communication expert Julian Treasure.

Reproduced from TED Talk

2. Oprah Winfrey interview with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

The video reveals how deep, compassionate listening helps people rekindle and heal troublesome relationships on personal and social levels.

Reproduced from Oprah Winfrey Network

Through this blogpost, we have walked you through the definition of Deep Listening and Observing, how to do so effectively from agile and servant-leadership perspectives, and some tips to get better at it. We hope the recommended learning resources provided at the end of this article will inspire you to customize your best ways to develop this habit and make your agile organization a better place every day.

Curious what’s next after Deep Listening and Observing? Let’s discover an important aspect of the fourth habit: Humility.



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