Five Ways to Listen Well
Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who
do more listening than talking.
Good listening skill is a key skill for anyone who works with others in business, government or nonprofits. It is especially important for those in management and leadership positions. It is something I myself am always working to improve in my own interactions and something I help others to develop.
Why it matters
The Internal Brain Trust
I remember hearing in my early career that the strongest and most successful leaders will surround themselves with people smarter than themselves.
This is something I’ve had the honor to witness firsthand: a confident leader who depends and leans on an internal expert who might be a direct report. There are several strategies involved in making this rather common structure work well, and the obvious one is this: To really take advantage of the strengths and expertise, one must be able to listen to the internal expert. Establishing a baseline of trust helps as well, along with having clarity around decision making authority.
Productivity and Innovation
To keep systems running smoothly and innovations hitting the mark, wise organizations look at how their members handle listening: to one another, to the external environment, and to their customers. The internal is always the place I like to begin, because it is the foundation for everything the entity delivers externally, and it is the where sustainability gets its foothold.
Raising the Bar
So how can we listen better inside the organization, to one another, regardless our station in the power hierarchy?
- Make time for true conversation. “Checking in” has to be about more than ticking off the list of tasks and outlining next steps and marching orders. Ideation and thought partnering should be happening at all levels of the organization, and regular time for dialogue is required. It should be happening more often than once a year at an annual retreat.
- Make space and place for dialogue and listening: If carving out time at the office is difficult, get out of the office. Have the difficult conversations elsewhere, preferably in a calm environment. This is more conducive to active listening on everyone’s part.
- Repeat back what you heard in your own words: “So, what I am hearing is that x,y, and z needs to be considered. Is that right?”
- Pause before you make the next point. Let the words of other settle just a bit. This indicates true listening and gets you off the merry-go-round of my point, now “your point bam, bam, bam.” (See my previous comments on this here.)
- Make a game of listening for something that is worth celebrating. Finding ways to give kudos to others in the organization can become a really enjoyable habit, but you have to know what is going on in order for that happen. Get off the bandwagon of just searching for the bad news, and listen for the good.
The Effective and Self-Aware Leader
Making these practices routine and sincere depends a lot on how you develop your leadership effectiveness in general. For me, as I’ve said, the three-legged stool of effectiveness is: Meditation (or mindfulness of any sort and practice); self-awareness and Radical Self-Care.
In From Awareness to Action: The Enneagram, Emotional Intelligence and Change: A guide to Improving Performance, R Tallon and M Sikora show us that “the self-aware leader will develop the Social Competency of communication skills, which includes ‘listening without interrupting’.” I would add that the listening must be authentic and active listening.
Leadership Effectiveness is built in part upon Self-Awareness and the Self-Aware leader develops a knack for conscious, authentic listening.
We can all stand to develop these skills more fully, and I personally, am working on them daily!