Effective leaders listen to input from their team. They understand and care about what their peers and employees are thinking, and they take that into account when they make business decisions. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy to do. There’s a difference between simply hearing what people say and actively listening to what they’re trying to tell you.
What is active listening?
Academics describe active listening as giving full attention to what someone is saying without interrupting them. Another way to look at that is to do more listening than talking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re paying attention. The best active listeners concentrate on what they’re hearing. Some leaders take notes so they can digest the words later.
How to actively listen
This lesson should be taught in elementary school, but most people need to wait for business school to get proper instruction on this essential management skill. Let’s begin by reviewing the basics. There are three parts to active listening:
- Let others speak and don’t interrupt – to absorb what they’re saying
- Ask follow-up questions – to clarify the details
- Repeat what you heard back to the speaker – to understand the information
How active listening can improve your leadership
Active listening is a life skill and a powerful leadership tool. Once you understand what it is, the next step is to internalize how to do it. The following four tips will help:
- Be engaged: Put more effort into engaging with employees. Familiarize yourself with workplace operations and company culture so you can better understand how your company runs and what each person’s role in it is.
- Be empathetic: Empathy comes from understanding and identifying where others are coming from. Try to learn from and understand everyone in the office. That can be a tedious process, so have patience while getting to know people.
- Be mindful: This tip is about self-awareness. As with empathy, patience can help you be more thoughtful when communicating with other people. Observe your actions frequently and carefully examine the consequences of those actions. That way, you can make adjustments and corrections when necessary.
- Be collaborative: Good leaders don’t operate in a vacuum—and they know how to lead without micromanaging. Make it a point to freely exchange ideas with employees and partners. Take good advice when it’s offered, but don’t be afraid to make tough decisions on your own when you need to.
8 tips to be a better listener
It takes practice to become a good active listener. Start by being more engaged, empathetic, mindful, and collaborative with your teammates. Enhance those actions by following the suggestions outlined below.
- Address barriers to communication: Time, space, and defective technology can all be communication barriers. Complex company hierarchies can also be a problem. Identify and address each of these to improve your active listening ability.
- Be present: Stay mindful of your emotions and body language. The wrong stance or facial expression can project indifference or even outright distaste for what someone is trying to communicate to you. Avoid that at all costs so you don’t give anyone the wrong impression.
- Minimize distractions: Turn off the computer and put your phone on vibrate. Minimize outside noise so you don’t think about other responsibilities while conversing. You’ll also want to find a private place to talk where you won’t be interrupted.
- Read nonverbal communication: They’re watching your body language. You should be paying attention to theirs, too. The nuances of stance and facial expressions are a topic they teach entire courses on. Great leaders understand why this is important.
- Listen first, then respond: Don’t rehearse your response in your head while the other person is still talking. If you do, you’ll miss something they’re trying to tell you. Wait until they finish, ask for clarification if necessary, and then respond.
- Be humble: Humility is synonymous with having self-awareness. Understand who you are and what you bring to the table. Challenge your assumptions, monitor your emotions, and admit when you’re wrong if it’s appropriate.
- Don’t discriminate: Listen to employees and partners from all levels and positions. You never know where insight will come from. This will also make you more approachable, a leadership characteristic that brings immense value to any organization.
- Lead by example: Don’t ask anyone to do anything you’re unwilling to do yourself. That includes active listening. Do it yourself and teach others how to do it. Your company will benefit from the enhanced communication, and you’ll accomplish the main goal of any leader—setting your team up for success.