How to be a Leader who Listens

Leaders today are required to be the ultimate listeners. However, being a good listener is a skill; one that takes concentration, focus and practice. If done effectively, it’s the key to solving problems and creating better outcomes.

Many of us struggle. But why is it so tough to listen? Here is what I call the listening dilemma:

The average person speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute. The problem is that we can hear at a rate of 1000 words per minute. This gives our brains a lot of extra time. What do you do with that extra time? More than likely your mind begins to wander…and tunes out, to never really tune back in.

Another significant barrier to listening is…being defensive. And this is really just about human nature. If you as a leader communicate something that doesn’t line up with the person (s) hearing your message – and his or her current understanding – then it creates tension because it challenges the current understanding of truth and reality.

It’s human nature for us to seek out data that proves we are right. In other words, when as leaders we communicate to our peers who are trying to listen, what they are wondering is …is this true in my world?

The following are tips that can help you improve your listening skills: an ROI that goes right to your bottom line. When we listen, we can ensure we are solving the RIGHT problem and lead much more effectively. 

Interactive listening tips

  1. Paraphrase the message to the speaker in order to confirm your understanding. (You can go on to…explain that by putting the message in your own words, you concentrate more on what was said, making you listen better.) You can say, “Here’s what I believe you said, and what I heard”.
  2. Probe for missing information. (You can go on to…explain that by requesting or asking questions, you find out any information that may have been missing in the communications or that you need or want.
  3. Clarify any points that you might not completely understand. (You can go on to…explain that this ensures that you have heard exactly what the other person intended to communicate.
  4. Remember the key points of the message for future conversations. (You can go on to…explain that this helps you retain the most important points of the communication.

Pick 1 or 2 things to FOCUS ON. If you are really serious about improving, share your focus areas with a peer, and ask for regular feedback on your progress. The bulk of our day – regardless of industry, role, experience etc. is about solving problems. Start with listening to make sure you’re solving the right ones!