Listening is the Overlooked Tool of Leadership
Listening increases the value and impact of your words.
“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” Stephen R. Covey
Most people think that listening is the price we pay for our turn to talk. We have to listen so we can talk. In other words, listening is a cost.
When was the last time you were more excited to listen than talk?
I’m so comfortable judging that non-judgmental listening feels wrong.
Quick minds judge quickly. You work to prove you’re right once you decide someone’s idea is flawed. You point out mistakes. You validate your judgement.
Self-justification follows judgement.
Listen to learn.
Enthusiasm to express yourself prevents learning.
Be more enthusiastic to listen and less excited to express yourself.
Unfocused conversations feel like chasing chickens.
- Listen to connect.
- Listen to learn.
- Listen to explore.
- How did you come up with this approach?
- What needs to be true for this solution to work?
- What’s the next step?
- Six months from now this blows up. What didn’t we do?
- What advice would the wisest advisor you know give you?
- What’s the most important success factor for this plan?
- If we made this solution just a little better, what might we do?
How to improve listening:
#1. Declare a specific intention.
A squishy intention like, I’m working to listen better, isn’t actionable.
I’m working on listening that lets others feel heard.
#2. Seek feedback.
What do I do – when you are talking – that helps you feel heard?*
What do I do – when you are talking – that gives you the impression that I’m not listening?
#3. Choose one listening skill to practice.
- Head nodding.
- Ask two questions before making one statement.
- Pausing when people are done speaking.
- Ask, “And what else?”
#4. Repeat steps 1 through 3.
How might leaders develop their listening skills?
How might leaders help others develop their listening skills?
Nate Regier suggests asking:
“When you feel most heard, what am I doing?”
“What do I do that invites you to feel heard?”
“What do I do that helps you feel heard?”
I have been helping my grandson with his ZOOM classes. And I have been working on his listening skills. My repeated focus has been:
1. Telling him to make eye contact with the speaker and focus on the speaker’s message.
2. Eliminating distractions (TV, items on his desk, spinning around in his chair, & cell phone).
3. Asking–what was the speaker’s big idea?
I use the acronym ABC—Always Be Curious as a motivation to listen and learn something new.
Thanks Paul. Distraction is huge. I read that just thinking you will receive a phone call decreases cognitive ability by 20%.
My grandson is so curious –he is focused on everything going on around him and doesn’t focus on the speaker.
Too much curiosity can become a negative.
Here is my short video on listening skills.
How might leaders develop their listening skills? Listening with “Respect” meaning we are paying attention to those delivering their message. Many of the items listed are key, removing distractions is major to any event as “Paul” mentions..
How might leaders help others develop their listening skills? I like Pauls “ABC’s list, I also like to paraphrase and ask them what we just discussed, if you get “the Deer in head lights eyes”, we missed connecting. Try channel the message that the topic is crucial to their functions that day ,week, etc. may be a lifetime if their Learning ears are on at that moment. I remember my Father Challenging me in 3rd grade, “What did I just say”? At that moment his time was important to him that we connected. Thanks, Pops!
Thanks Tim. One thing I’m taking from your comment is make the communication relevant to the person. It makes listening easier and useful. Checking to see if communication actually happened is so valuable as well.
Zoom has created a new language of listening, the head nod is a powerful affirmation that doesn’t create sound gaps (when multiple parties speak at the same time).
Pausing is also powerful, silently saying, I’m giving thought to your comments.
I’m a long time fan of listening, believing that in customer relationships what we need to know is locked inside the prospects thoughts.
Thanks Ken. Thanks for applying ‘head nodding’ to zoom. What a useful way to let people know you’re listening. I’ve started raising my eyebrows as well. When I think, I frown. That looks like disapproval.
Sorry, my thumbs up fat fingered, the danger of a small screen 🙁
I always appreciate your insights.
Agree with you, Ken about Zoom. I’m an elementary educator and as such, live in a different world than most of Dan’s audience of readers. However, this story connects us. Over the past year I have been a virtual guest teacher in many classrooms to demonstrate a number talk with students for teachers. In number talks we teach kids to use ‘silent signals’, one of which is the shaka sign – a cultural icon here in Hawaii with many meanings (https://blog.padi.com/2014/03/16/a-short-history-of-the-shaka/) that our students are already familiar with – and marry it with the American Sign Language symbol for “think-same” (https://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-signs/t/think-same.htm). We teach kids that it’s a silent signal to use when they agree with the speaker, when their strategy for solving a problem is similar. A bit more obvious and deliberate than a head nod. It provides a boost of mathematical confidence to students when peers validate their thinking. And allows the children in agreement, who want to jump right in and talk also, to be heard. Dan’s work resonates for me more than one would expect! Thanks, Dan!
Thanks Wendy. The idea of silent communication on zoom is powerful. The first time I saw this was during a presentation I did for NIH. They used a silent clap. They held up their hands and did a clapping motion. I thought it was very cool.
Man did I need to hear this! I struggle with running ahead of the moment, planning my response…
Recently I had one of my leaders say to me, “It would mean more to the team if you were looking at them when you were talking. I know you are trying to multitask, but what you’re saying to them is that what they are saying isn’t as important as what you are dong on your phone.”
BOOM. Wake up call for me. Just like this article.
4. Look at people when they are talking to you
be too simplistic or condescending? I know I needed to hear it!
Wow…thanks for jumping in today, Page. Simple behaviors are often disproportionately useful. That’s why I stuck in ‘head nodding’. Yes, look at people. Best for the journey ahead.
Dan, I wish high schools, colleges and grad schools would offer courses in listening. Imagine how that could help with leadership development throughout our population!!!
Seriously Larry!! Why don’t we courses or degrees in listening?
When I first read “The Seven Habits…” over thirty years ago, the lessons on listening that were part of Habit 6: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” really struck a chord with me. At the time I was a detective and I had a reputation as a skilled interviewer. I gained this reputation by exercising good listening habits that I had learned in investigative techniques training over the past several years. I later taught interviewing and interrogation, and listening was at the forefront of that training. Those same listening skills served me well in leadership positions that I held from 1994 until my retirement 1n 2014. One of my detective supervisors used to tell us, “You don’t ever learn anything while you’re talking.” He was right!
Actively listening takes a lot focus and energy and some people do not want to spend that amount of time actively doing it. Your suggestions regarding being more active in listening with asking a question before you respond is good advice. I think it also extends back to your discussion regarding seeking advice. A lot of the time advice seeking is affirmation. With a more active listener, affirmation seeking can be changed into real actions if the listener is doing their part in their listening.
Thanks Adam. A focus on action seems essential when it comes to listening like a leader. Thanks for mentioning this important idea.