Talking, rather than listening, seems to be a common trait among leaders in business, culture, politics, and elsewhere. The presumption is that anyone who attains the status of “leader” must have important things to say, and don’t have to bother hearing what anyone else wants to tell them.
In fact, the opposite is true.
The most effective business leaders get more accomplished because they know how to listen. While, of course, it’s important to weigh in on business strategy and organizational design, there’s a great deal to be gained by listening to what others have to say. The alternative–not paying attention to others and often not understanding what they are trying to tell you–is a good recipe for business failure, and should therefore be avoided at all costs.
If you want to improve your ability to hear those around you, keep the following tips in mind:
Stop thinking about what you’ll say next.
When in conversation, we’re all guilty of thinking more about what we plan to say next, rather than making the effort to truly hear what’s being said.
But as The New York Times points out, it’s more important to be “comfortable not knowing what you’re going to say next.” Rely on your ability to “think of something in the moment based on what the other person just said,” because this “sends a powerful signal to the other person that you’re truly listening to them.”
Tune out distractions.
It’s become a challenge for all of us to clear our heads in order to listen to what someone else is saying. But it’s imperative to make the effort. In a conversation with a customer, employee, vendor, or other stakeholder, do the following to listen better:
- Shut off mobile devices.
- Look away from your computer screen.
- Close your office door to screen out external noise.
- Avoid interrupting the other person.
Also, refrain from jumping in when there’s a pause in the conversation. “Never rush a speaker by completing his or her sentence,” notes Right Management. Being patient “will go a long way to building trust and rapport.”
Observe non-verbal cues.
People communicate through non-verbal cues and body language almost as much as they do through words. Effective listeners closely watch the speaker’s gestures, facial expressions, and their tone of voice. From these “clues,” they often deduce the real meaning behind what the other person is trying to articulate.
Expert listeners use their own body language to communicate, as well. While listening, they nod at appropriate moments, engage in friendly and welcoming eye contact, and display “open” body language (that is, not standing or sitting at a distance, with arms crossed). These non-verbal cues let the other person know they really are the focus of your attention.
Ask the right questions.
A good listener demonstrates his or her focus by following up on what the other person has said with a pertinent question. (This is also a good way to ensure you grasp the point of the conversation.)
When the moment is right, ask questions that drill down beneath the surface of the discussion. Avoid questions the other person can only answer with a “yes” or a “no.” Instead, ask open-ended questions that invite deeper commentary or invite the speaker to offer examples of what they’re talking about. These exchanges have the potential to yield far more effective insights that benefit everyone involved.
Listen to your team.
The strongest business leaders have abandoned the need to dominate a conversation. They understand that empathy grows out of genuinely hearing what others have to tell them and that they can make better decisions because of what they’ve learned.
This is often particularly true with people who make up your workforce. Leaders who “fail to truly listen to their employees run the risk of losing them,” notes Medio, adding that employees “who don’t feel listened to are more likely to feel resentment at their job and seek other opportunities.”
Business leaders who listen have a competitive edge over people who never stop talking and who neglect the growth that comes from listening to others.