Active Listening Equals Effective Leadership

No matter what role you play in your company, becoming a more active listener will help you get ahead in your position. It means fewer errors, improved accuracy, and enhanced working relationships. In addition, listening to your customers and referral sources will definitely help you in your marketing efforts. You will solicit better information from other people whether interviewing job candidates, solving work problems, or working to make a sale.

Contrary to what many people think, being an active listener is not a passive activity. It takes concentration, effort, and active attention. Because our brains work much faster than our ability to speak, we often jump ahead of the speaker in our minds and miss the opportunity to fully understand a person’s feelings, position, and perspective. Environmental distractions or personal biases can also interfere with our ability to understand what a person is saying.

When listening, you are giving a gift of your time and attention to the other person.

Work to respond both verbally and non-verbally to the person who is speaking. This lets the speaker know that you are truly listening and that you understand what he or she is trying to communicate. Here are some ideas to help you hone your listening skills:

  1. Don’t Talk. This may seem self-evident. However, many people listen with impatience. They are just waiting for their chance to speak, or worse yet they interrupt. Be courteous and give your listener your full attention. Avoid offering solutions if the speaker is expressing a problem. Just listen.
  2. Listen Fully. A good listener looks interested in what the speaker is saying. Your body language speaks volumes. Maintain eye contact, sit still, lean slightly toward the speaker, and nod your head occasionally.
  3. Ask Clarifying Questions. Wait for the speaker to pause, and then ask clarifying questions. It is a good idea to paraphrase what the speaker has said and to ask questions such as, “Did you mean…” or “If I understand you correctly, you said…”
  4. Provide Feedback. Remain engaged in what the speaker is saying and show this verbally. He or she will appreciate the occasional “I see…” or “Really?” or “that is very interesting!”
  5. Keep Your Mind Open. The point of listening is to gain new information. Don’t just search for a point that supports your own opinions. Be willing to gain new insights and learn about someone else’s point of view.
  6. Be on the Same Level. Make sure you are at eye level with the other person. Avoid having an employee or customer stand in front of your desk. Have comfortable chairs available so that a desk is not a barrier between you.
  7. Respect Your Speaker. If the conversation involves criticism from either party or contains personal information, go to a private room for the discussion. Make sure other people can’t listen to your discussion. This will help the speaker feel more at ease and also demonstrates your respect for what he or she has to say.
  8. Pay Attention to Cues. What isn’t being said is often as important than what is being said. Body language speaks volumes. Watch the speaker’s facial expressions, posture, eyes, gestures, and other nonverbal cues.
  9. Avoid Invalidating Language. While you may not agree with what the speaker is saying, avoid defensive statements or phrases that argue with his or her points. Later, you can take time to review what was said and formulate a response. As an active listener, your role is to allow the person the time and space to fully express his or her feelings and perspectives.
  10. Express Appreciation. Thank the listener for sharing his or her thoughts and feelings. It takes courage to speak up. True sharing builds trust, respect, and rapport and encourages further dialogue.

It takes time and energy to become a better listener. Be patient. As you begin to improve your listening skills, you may be surprised to find people will seek you out to share their thoughts and feelings. You will also find yourself involved in fewer conflicts and be perceived as a more positive and trustworthy person. Active listening is a rare skill that people respect and welcome.

Here is an idea: This week, try to concentrate on your listening skills. Do you finish sentences for others? Do you interrupt? Do you sneak looks at your watch? Pay attention to your listening habits and begin to bring conscious attention to improving these skills. Work to show others that you hear and understand them.

Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoffhttp://softskillsforsuccess.com/
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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  1. A great post, Sandy, thank you.

    I read a lot of posts on listening, many with lists of tips. I particularly liked yours, as you offered additional insights, that whilst seem obvious, are far from common practice.

    For example, get on an equal level. Talking down physically feels like it as well. Children are great for feedback and watch how better they respond when you are at their level. Notice how Waiters and Waitresses squat down to be at your level.

    Another is to have respect…this works both ways. Even just thinking this can impact the depth and quality of the conversation. As this happens at an unconscious level, we are sometimes just left with a feeling that something isn’t right.

    Finally, invalidating language. I loved this one. How easy it can be to direct, deflect, encourage or stop the conversation by how we react/respond. Remaining neutral, encouraging the speaker to speak, and to not reacting can enable the speaker to reveal far more.

    And my favourite, appreciation. So easy to miss. I certainly appreciate the time you have taken to write this and your courage to share what matters.

    Colin

    • Hi Colin, Thanks so much for your insights on my article. This is, in my opinion, and experience, the most important communication skills and can enhance all relationships if practised and used regularly. I know you are very familiar with this skill and that is why your comments are so validating and appreciated.

      • Hi Sandy, therein lies the lovely paradox. On the one hand, listening is acknowledged as the most important skill for communicating well, and on the other the one skill dismissed by so many as not needed, saying that they know how to listen. Yet, when asked if anyone has said, “Thank you for listening”, to them in the last 2-3 weeks, is usually met with a long silence. Colin

        • you are absolutely correct, Colin. Few people really do know how to actively listen even though they think they do. I have been teaching this skill for about 20 years now and when I explain the interferences to active listening as well as the roadblocks that poor listeners throw up, many are very surprised. Then I get them to practice with a partner and they do realize that it is something that is a lot harder to do than they expected.

          • Thank you Sandy, your own experience in this field shines through in your writing and thinking. Agreed, helping people shift from hearing to listening, and realising that I am not ‘really’ listening at all. Even though I teach this stuff, I still fail regularly…mainly being triggered, and all my good intentions get brushed aside. D’oh! We start again!

            Colin

            • What this shows, Colin is that you are human. It takes a great deal of determination and constant focus to truly listen actively for any length of time and that is why so few can do it. At least you recognize that you sometimes have lost your focus, and that says a lot. Again, appreciate your input and enjoy our exchanges.

              • Thank you Sandy, most kind. I believe we are all doing our best, based on a whole raft of circumstances that we are in and face every day. If we take that view, grace and forgiveness is much easier to bring into our way of being. Likewise, if we listen for their story, really listen empathically, once we hear it, they can never be our enemy.

                I find that children are our greatest teachers when it comes to paying attention, not only do they know it, but they call us out on it too.

                Likewise, always enjoy these deep, insightful and meaningful exchanges. So thank you too.

                Colin

                • Again, I totally agree with you, especially the forgiveness and children part. I have 2 grandsons and greatly enjoy their honesty and our exchanges both live and via Skype. I only wish training programs would include more soft skills that when people graduate they not only have the professional, technical or vocational skills necessary to do a job, but also the people skills necessary to be valuable to the organization as a good team player, possible manager, effective communication, good time and stress manager as well as one who can embrace change well. Unfortunately, very few programs have any soft skills at all. Have a great day and a wonderful week!

                  • Spot on Sandy, so agree with you about teaching soft skills, and the earlier they are introduced the better. It seems to be such a paradox, it is widely recognised that we need these skills but they are not being introduced. Yet being a good listener/communicator is the most sought after skills for new employees and those seeking promotion. Sometimes I just smile at it all. Enjoy your week, am off to the sunshine for 10 days. Blessings, Colin

                    • Lucky you! Enjoy your week away. We are off to Calgary on Friday for a few days to celebrate my sister-in-law’s 90th Birthday. Today, my son & daughter-in-law are arriving here for a few hours on their way back to Toronto from a holiday in Australia. As they have a long layover, I am going to pick them up and take them out for brunch and then return them to the airport to catch their flight home. We are looking forward to seeing them & hearing about the trip. Then this afternoon I will go golfing with my daughter.
                      I have been able to introduce some soft skills into a few programs that I teach at a few local universities but not many. Mostly I provide customized interactive workshops & personal coaching sessions for my clients in a wide range of soft skills topics according to their specific needs.
                      I am greatly enjoying our exchange and we certainly are on the same page

                    • Thank you for your best wishes :-).

                      Special times, eh Sandy. Often those times together, where everyone takes the time to be together, even if they are short, are what matters. These moments go in the ‘bank’ and remind us of what actually matters. This weekend, was one such time for me and those closest to me, to be together for a few hours. This is what we remember as we grow older. My daughter, when she was very young still recalls walking to the coffee shop with her Grandfather for a coke/coffee and to just be together.

                      It would be lovely seeing listening skills being taught more…a friend of mine observed that she thinks the tide is turning…so I use the phrase, “Listening is being heard”.

                      Have a great time in Calgary and your loved ones.

                      I will invite you to connect on LinkedIn and let’s arrange a Skype/Zoom call soon.

                      Take care

                      Colin

                    • Hi Collin, I agree totally with you. In fact, our son & daughter-in-law were just with us for a few hours yesterday on their way home from a trip to Australia…..they had about a 6-hour layover so we picked them up & brought them home for a visit and our daughter (who lives here) came over as well. So we all had a lovely visit before we had to return them to the airport for their final leg back to Toronto.
                      I love to go to Toronto & spend time with my grandsons because I want them to have memories of our time spent together and we have to create those.
                      I have accepted your invitation on Linkedin and would love to connect via Zoom. Let me know when you are available and we can sync our calendars for time to do that.

  2. To my way of thinking your article contained exceptionally valuable information. If I may add you are also providing tips that will be very valuable outside of the business world. Thank you, Sandy, for so generously sharing your vast expertise with the public.

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