As leaders, it is easy to confuse the terms “hearing” and “listening.”
If you hear your team, you are physically aware of the words they are saying.
Instead, if you listen to your team, you engage with their words, contemplate their meaning, and take their facial expressions, tone, and body language into account.
If you hear your team, you passively exist when around employees.
If you listen to your team, you are actively aware of their thoughts, their needs, and their pain points. You are also trying to understand those thoughts, fill their needs, and relieve their pain points.
The success of your organization could depend on whether you only hear what is going on, or if you genuinely listen. If you consider yourself a ‘pretty good listener,’ as a leader, you also know there is always room for improvement. Below are five steps to improving your listening skills as a leader.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
Sometimes, you may not even be aware of your lack of listening skills.
Take today to be aware of your habits…
- What time of the day do you listen the best?
- What time of day do you listen the worst?
- Is there a common influence that shuts you down from wanting to listen?
- Are you looking intently at the person you are listening to, or are you looking at your phone, your watch, or your calendar?
Step 2: Remove Distractions
Once you have identified your personal struggles in your listening, take the time to set yourself up for success. After all, if you are on a diet, you most likely won’t keep a chocolate cake on your desk all day!
This may practically look like…
- Shutting off your phone when someone walks into your office.
- Taking down the clock in the conference room and assigning someone (other than you) to update the team if there is a time constraint.
- Setting up your schedule to reflect the best times for you to be an engaged listener.
Step 3: Stop Talking
Don’t already be thinking about what you are going to say back to someone before they finish speaking. By waiting to process the information, you allow your brain to stay focused on the current task at hand. Contrary to popular belief, the human brain cannot multitask.
This method also decreases the chance of you saying something you will regret later. Remember, less is more.
Step 4: Repeat, Repeat
Repeating back to someone what they just said to you not only assures that you understood what the person was saying, but it also shows them that you were actually engaged in their words. This could take shape several different ways…
- “So if I am listening correctly….”
- “So what you’re saying is…”
- “Can I repeat this back to you to make sure we are on the same page?”
Step 5: Find Your Method
There are many different articles and schools of thought on how to be a successful listener. Be sure to give yourself time to try out a few different styles. Whatever you do, don’t stop trying to improve. Your team depends on you to lead them well, and the first step to that is learning to listen.
Action Item: Take the 5 Minute Leadership Analysis Quiz