Become a Better Leader by Understanding How To Listen

Listening is the gateway to connecting with the people around us. A leader who can listen to what others have to say — whether employees, bosses, clients, or customers — can have a major impact on productivity and relationship building.

Listening is not only a skill, but also an art form often taken for granted. It’s a powerful tool that can help you influence or persuade or others. For example, listening with intent can show your clients that you care, prompting them to accept your offers. Listening can also help you avoid a costly misunderstandings.

Leaders need to listen with the mind, heart, and intuition. In any conversation you should listen to what is being said and to what is not being said. Deep listening includes noticing body language, eye movements, tone of voice and general demeanor. Can you “hear” hope, dreams, and needs, or maybe despair, frustration, or lack of interest? Learning how to listen intentionally can help you pick up on subtle or unspoken cues. 

Here are some ways to improve your listening skills:

  • Listen for the gap. 

The gap is the space between where the person you are speaking to is and where they want to be. A good listener can discern what is said and not said and can help others gain clarity as they reflect on what they heard. You can do this by paraphrasing. “So, I heard you say…,” and “Sounds like you would rather…, is that right?” By mirroring back what others say, you make that person feel fully heard.

  • Listen for the person’s “agenda.”

We often hear what we want to hear. It’s easy to focus on what we want to hear or what we think we heard. As a leader, you have the responsibility to help those you lead grow. The best way you can help them is by listening.

Don’t listen with the intent of finding a solution for every problem. A good leader doesn’t focus on what he or she wants to hear. Rather, a good leader helps others hear themselves by empowering them to discover their strengths and find solutions to their problems.  

  • Listen with your whole body, mind and heart. 

Listen to others with every part of you. Be genuine and sincere when engaging in conversations. People will notice when you are disinterested or insincere. A good listener shows how much they care.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Pay attention to the emotions coming from those you are speaking with and respond accordingly. It’s also important to listen with intuition. “We all have intuition but we don’t consciously listen to it, trusting only what appears to be rational in our often, irrational mind,” as written in an article for Psychology Today

Go with your gut when you listen to a colleague or team member who is struggling making a key decision. “Don’t ignore what your heart and gut are telling you.”

Active listening can be taxing on the listener. It requires your full attention and sincere intent, but the outcome can be invaluable to everyone involved. As a leader and listener, your role is to understand what your team members are experiencing and what they are trying to communicate. The last thing you want to do is be a leader who displays “selective listening” or who “pretends to listen.”

Listening doesn’t just benefit others, but can also help us connect to ourselves. Focus on inner focus by being attentive to yourself and those around you. Understanding how to listen will not only encourage deeper and more effective communication, but will also help you become a better leader.

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