“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable—and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.” ~ Peter Nulty, National Business Hall of Fame – Fortune Magazine
Communication is a two way street. At least that’s what we’re told. A conversation where one person does all of the talking and none of the listening is a monologue, not a dialogue.
As you move up the corporate ladder, listening becomes one of the most important skills you will have to master if you want to become successful. And make no mistake about it: it is a skill.
In order to be a good listener, you must believe it is a critical part of your job. Most leaders become leaders because they are good talkers with strong opinions, but successful leaders know when to stop talking and start listening.
A few points to ponder:
- Be fully engaged in the conversation. Put away all distractions. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next, or in response to what you are hearing. It sends a message that what you have to say is more important. It also says you just don’t care.
- Body language is key, both when you speak, and when you listen. Communication is more than just speaking words; non-verbal cues sometimes speak louder than words. Eye contact is key, although you don’t want to lock eyes the entire conversation. That is way too intimidating for anyone. Uncross your arms and open your body. Facial expressions and body language speak volumes.
- Listening is especially important when there are difficult conversations to be had. Most people want to get them over as quickly as possible. Talking without listening is a way of avoiding conflict. Even if you don’t agree with what is being said, make sure you acknowledge the information.
- Successful leaders don’t judge when they are listening, they just listen. And they certainly don’t interrupt.
- Leaders are seeking the best answer, not just their answer to a problem. Listening to other people’s point of view is the sign of a confident leader. They know others might have great ideas as well, and listening to them will put their company in the best possible position to deal with a problem.
- Take notes. They don’t have to be too detailed, unless you want them to be. It will remind you of specifics, and help you ask probing questions later on. It will also show the speaker you are interested and will motivate them to be as prepared as possible. Listening is a building block that opens doors and builds better relationships.
- Listening helps build empathy, by trying to understand another’s point of view. Great leaders are always trying to build consensus. When people know they are being listened to and that their opinion matters, it creates good will that will pay big dividends in the future. On the contrary, if people know that their point of view is dismissed from the start of a conversation, it will shut them down, lower morale and stifle any creativity.
Being a compassionate listener has never gotten anyone in trouble. When employees, supervisors and managers know they are being listened to by leaders (not just heard, but listened to…there is a difference), their performance, attitude and morale will increase to new heights, and respect for the leader will soar. Some leaders are great speakers, but successful leaders are great listeners.