5 Steps to Better Listening (and more Effective Leadership)

Listening matters.

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In fact, listening is one of the most essential disciplines of great leaders.  Note that I used the word “disciplines”, not the word “skills”.  Listening is a discipline – it is only done through constant practice, continuous attention.  You have to choose to do it.

Last time you tried to listen, did an internal voice or rogue thought distract you?  Did you jump ahead of the person speaking and begin to think of a response?  Was your ” listening” more about debate and persuasion – and less about understanding?

I have my own examples of poor listening and the rush to debate:  A few weeks back, a team member stopped by my office to express a concern that the company was on a wrong course with a particular customer, that what we were offering them was not what they needed.  For sure, he expressed his thought in a  criticizing way.  And immediately – as soon as I saw where he was headed – I  closed off my mind to his point and began to compose a response.  Each of us left the conversation irritated and unpersuaded.  Weeks later, it became clear that he was right.  The customer told us we weren’t deliver what they needed, and they went with someone else.  Arrgh.

What does the research say?  Put simply, listening correlates to effective leadership.

Try these 5 tips to improve your listening – start today!

1.  Commit to understanding, not just hearing.  Decide that the person you are talking to has something important to say.  Remind yourself that you could be wrong, or misunderstand, or not even know anything about this issue.  Really try to understand it.  

2.  Ignore the distractions.  The phone.  The text message or email pleading for your attention.  Give the person you are talking to your attention and respect.

3.   Maintain eye contact.   Do you really believe that someone is listening if they are looking at or doing something else?  People really cannot multitask at all – so if you want to understand someone, look at them.

4.  Let them speak!  Never interrupt, or launch into debate.  If you are tempted, see #1 above.

5.  Ask questions to confirm.  Put that inner voice, the one that so often distracts you, to work formulating questions that will help confirm your understanding.  Only when the person has paused in their speaking, should you speak.  And then first confirm your understanding.

And…never, ever use a follow up question as a means of turning around or distorting what was said.  What do I mean?  A team member comes to you with a problem and you tell them, “So what you are saying is that this problem is insurmountable, that the task is too hard for you.” You might as well kick them in the face, or call them a nasty name, for all the disrespect it shows.


Makes sense, right?  Just emulate the great listeners in your life.  That’s all.  You will build credibilty, trust, and influence.  Of course it is tough.  And incredibly rewarding.

What do You think?  I’m listening…..

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3 thoughts on “5 Steps to Better Listening (and more Effective Leadership)

  1. I love how you include yourself doing what we all do – the thing we KNOW we’re not supposed to do! Great use of your own foible to highlight just how important this discipline really is, thanks for being real.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. So much of what we learn about leadership is through self-examination – sometimes sifting through the rubble of an even that went badly, sometimes examining the root of a victory.

  2. Pingback: Welcome (again!) – Kicking it Into Gear | Serve. transform. lead.

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