Are you a good listener? My fear is that most leaders, including myself, think we are. However, the truth may be far different. I believe without constant effort a leader’s natural tendency is to not listen – or at least not listen well.
Why would our listening skills drift without focused attention? I think there are at least five reasons:
- Leaders are busy
- We’re not taught how to listen
- Many leaders are easily distracted
- There’s so much to listen to, it’s hard to focus
- Great listening is not modeled for us
So, how do we respond? Here are five ideas that may help you and me be better listeners…
Try to find a way to add value to the person you’re listening to. Often, we listen with an ear to what we want or need. That will always be part of the conversation; but to add value, we have to discern a need or an opportunity. This type of needs analysis is usually not possible without a listening ear.
Try to focus on the person – not the crowd. If you are in a meeting and someone is speaking, don’t focus on everyone in the room, just the individual. Don’t try to read the reaction of the others. Just listen to one person. Make eye contact and focus on them alone.
Repeat what you think the person is trying to communicate. This is not a new idea – but it is still powerful. When you repeat what you've heard, the person can clarify as needed, just in case you’ve missed something. Also, if you’re able to replay what’s been said, the person will most likely feel affirmed – they’ll know you were listening. It’s a win-win!
Don’t try to formulate your response to the other person while they are talking. After someone finishes speaking, repeat what you heard if it’s appropriate, then pause to consider your response. If it takes a moment, that’s fine. This may even signal the to the other person that you were actually listening to them.
Eliminate as many distractions as possible. We’ll always have distractions, but do all you can to eliminate as many as possible. Turn off your phone, meet off site, close your door, meet in a conference room – do what you can to eliminate noise, literally and figuratively.
The rewards of good listening are many – people feel valued, mistakes can be avoided, execution can improve, followship can be strengthened and a culture of honor, dignity and respect can be nurtured.
If you haven’t focused on your listening skills for a while, give it a try. You might be surprised what you’ll hear.[GLS_Shield]