5 Tips for Listening for Leaders

Newsweek Magazine
To become more effective leaders, we must develop our listening skills.

Listening for LeadersAs business leaders and coaches, we may think we’re good listeners. After all, we spend much of our time talking to team members, vendors, clients and other stakeholders. However, talking is not listening, and listening is a skill that needs developing.

It’s easy for leaders to pre-judge what’s said to them. We tend to rely on our own experiences and compare that to new information we receive from others. This can cause us to reject ideas that don’t conform to those experiences. And sometimes, frankly, things are hard to hear. The Negative reports from team members make us uncomfortable and our impulse is to shut those conversations down. This is a mistake. To become more effective leaders, we must develop our listening skills.

Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Good Listener

Listening is not a passive activity. It requires asking the right questions to get more information and understanding that we may not have all the answers immediately. Overconfidence leads to tunnel vision, and that prevents growth. Good listening skills take time to develop, but here are five things you can start using right away in conversations with your teams.

1. Don’t interrupt

Ask questions and wait for the answer. Let the speaker finish their thought even if you feel like you’ve heard enough to form a solution to a problem. Quiet your inner monologue which will try to come up with the answer before all the information is out. Stop the inner voice and give the speaker your full attention.

2. Don’t force the conversation

Similar to don’t interrupt is don’t force the conversation. Give people time to express their ideas.

Guiding the conversation is fine — even helpful — but do it with questions that move the discussion forward. When a team member is rushed or feels that you’ve lost patience with them, they retreat. This can discourage them and others from giving feedback or seeking advice in the future.

3. Do ask questions

Being a good listener means asking the right questions and is also a way to move discussions forward. This is to your benefit because it helps leaders understand the speaker’s position better. It shows employees that you have empathy and want to understand them. It also helps you get the information needed to take action. You would never have your doctor perform surgery on you if he/she did not go through a battery of questions, evaluations and assessments before he/she provided a prescriptive solution. The same is true in coaching and selling.

4. Do maintain a learning mentality

When listening to someone, keep the Socratic method in mind. In other words, start your listening from a place where you know nothing about the subject beforehand. Your only goal is to gain knowledge about what the team member is explaining. When you enter a dialogue with a learning mentality, you leave your preconceptions out of it. You’re only listening to learn.

.5. Do summarize the conversation

Summing up the conversation is proof that you have listened. It shows that you’ve understood the problem and gives validation to the team member. It reinforces the key points in your mind and makes them easier to refer back to later. It also allows the team member to correct anything they feel has been misunderstood.

Benefits of Being an Active Listener

Being a good active listener shows your team that you have their attention and empathy. Your clients’ “gap” analysis, which is the difference between their current state (where are they now) and their future state (where they want to be), can only be uncovered by asking effective assessment discovery questions. This is a critical factor for selling and coaching businesses, and it increases your capacity as a leader. Leaders must learn new things too. Openness to feedback builds trust and makes the entire organization stronger. It shows commitment, validates team members and motivates them at the same time.

Listening also helps you gain a better understanding of your business. It provides you the opportunity to view the organization through a different lens. This helps you understand not just employees but customers, as well. It also gives business leaders a better understanding of the day-to-day realities of the organization. Leaders, especially of large organizations, tend to rely on a bird’s-eye view of the businesses. Listening to team members provides insight at the ground level. Those guidelines belong to the Listening for Leaders inventory.