Leaders that listen change the trajectory of their team and the quality of their relationships. However, even with ample opportunities to listen, most leaders aren’t very good at it.
Preliminary research from the SkillsLoft assessment shows only 13% of professionals have “effective” listening skills. Another study suggests roughly 60% of communication time is spent listening, yet most people retain just 25% of what they hear.
Whether you believe you are in this group struggling to effectively listen or not, there is a simple principle you should consider to help you:
Don’t assume you are listening, assume you are not listening
Leaders tend to make two significant mistakes, assuming they are listening and not understanding the difference between hearing and listening.
Hearing vs. Listening
While hearing and listening may seem like they serve the same purpose, the difference between the two is relatively significant. Yes, the two activities involve the use of ears, but that’s about where their similarities stop.
The definition of hearing has more to do with the physiological act of hearing sounds than it does with making sense and connecting with the person talking to you.
On the other hand, listening means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.” I would summarize the difference this way; “Hearing is through ears, but listening is through the mind.” To take it a step further, hearing is an ability, and listening is a skill. You have to choose to listen to the ideas and perspectives of others instead of just hearing them. You can download the Leadership Guide to More Effective Listening here.
How well you listen, determines how well you connect, and connection is the key to leadership.
When you do this, you will have found the key to leadership because how well you listen determines how well you connect, and connection is key to leadership.
Leadership Listening Sessions
There are many examples of leaders who prioritize listening, but maybe none better than Lippert Components (LCI) CEO Jason Lippert. During an enormous change initiative to embed core values and make a more human-centered culture in his organization, he went conducted a series of “leadership listening sessions.” He visited and continued to visit each LCI facility with one goal in mind: listen first, then share.
These listening sessions not only built more substantial connections with employees but exposed hundreds of ideas to provide employees with cleaner, safer, and better places to work and perform at their best. You can learn more about how Lippert as a force for good here.
How to Listen Better
If you struggle to listen as a leader, here are a few tips to help you develop the skill.
1. Anchor Yourself
Demonstrating the skill of listening isn’t possible unless you give undivided attention to other people. Far too often, leaders forget this simple, yet powerful leadership lesson:
You can’t truly listen until you are anchored into a conversation.
Put away your phone, close the computer and give people focused attention. As simple as this act is, most people don’t do it because they are unaware or unwilling. If, for some reason, that isn’t possible because of other priorities, be honest with yourself and others.
I coach leaders to do this effectively by saying, “Let me shut what I am doing down so I can give you my undivided attention.”
2. Consider What Others Are Saying
Often, managers think about how they will respond versus truly considering the other person’s perspective. The best leaders reject this approach because they know people are more likely to have an open heart and mind after feeling heard.
People are more likely to have an open heart and mind after feeling heard.
While you might disagree with what someone is saying, you demonstrate empathy and care by truly considering what others say before responding.
3. Prove You Listened
While implementing every idea isn’t possible, testing or discussing what someone else is saying in more detail rather than disregarding is an excellent sign you listened. The best leaders always look for one action item from a conversation to implement to demonstrate they listened.
The best leaders look for one action item from a conversation to demonstrate they listened.
Even in conversations where there aren’t action items, proving you listened by remembering critical things from your last conversation is a powerful way to show people you care.
Listening is a skill when done well, will change the trajectory of your team and the quality of your relationships. However, just because it’s essential doesn’t mean it’s easy. When you anchor yourself, consider what others are saying, and prove you listened, you will be on your way to listening like the best leaders.
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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.