The Importance of Listening as a Leader

“When you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.” -Jiddu Krishnamurti

We live in a world full of distractions.  With the constant influx of media and technology, many of us have lost our ability to actively listen and often find comfort in the screen of our phone.  However, if we can retrain ourselves to focus on the present moment and truly listen to our people, many issues in the workplace can be avoided and you can get to know your people and better understand their needs in order to make them happier.

Listen to Bob Carilli, COO and co-founder of Behavioral Essentials, talk about the importance of listening for leaders and other attributes he believes are important to effectively develop and lead your people.

So How Can I be a Better Listener? 

The listening process can be broken up into five distinct stages: receiving, understanding,remembering, evaluating, and responding. This is the model most commonly referred to when analyzing good communication, because it helps isolate the necessary skills required at each individual step in the process.

The most important thing to keep in mind though is that listening is, indeed, a process, and one that requires effort. Once you understand how each part makes up the whole, you’ll come out a better leader.

Did I receive the message? 

This is the first and most basic stage of the listening process: the act of actually absorbing the information being expressed to you, whether verbally or nonverbally.  Not all communication is done through speech, and not all listening is done with ears.

No matter how you’re communicating with another person, the key at this stage is to pay attention.

Focus all of your energy on them, by following these three simple tips:

1. Avoid distractions.

Multitasking is a huge barrier to good listening. In this day and age, when we are constantly connected to everyone at once, it’s so tempting to allow ourselves to be distracted. You might think you’re good at multitasking, and perhaps you are, but demonstrating a commitment to the act of listening will make you a more respected person and leader.

2. Don’t interrupt the speaker.

You might want to make an assumption about what the speaker is saying, or what they’re about to say – please don’t. You may find that your assumptions are wrong which ultimately don’t benefit your conversation in anyway and can be considered rude. You can, however, practice nonverbal feedback cue, such as nodding, to demonstrate your attention.

3. Don’t rehearse your response.

Within this stage, your primary responsibility is to listen. If you start to plan what you will say next while the other person is sharing, you’re going to miss certain points and not be able to respond to their larger message when it’s your turn to talk.

Did I understand the Message? 

This is the stage in the listening process where you’re able to plan your response. Understanding takes place after you’ve received the information from the person sharing, and begin to process its meaning.

You can do this by asking questions, or rephrasing parts of what the person shares with you during the conversation. This allows you to demonstrate your active engagement with their words, and help you better understand their key points.

Can I remember what they said? 

What good would it do in a conversation if you forgot everything the person had just said? This stage of the listening process might seem very similar to the first two, but it goes beyond merely absorbing and processing information.

Remembering is about retaining that information, and the most effective way to do so is to move the key elements of a message from your short-term memory, and into your long-term memory.

Here are a couple of methods for doing this:

Identify the main points.

By converting a collection of small details into a theme, you’re able to create something potentially complicated into an easy-to-grasp general concept. The details will remain in your short-term memory, but isolating the main ideas will help you understand them better, and remember them longer.

Make the message familiar.

Relate that main idea to something you already know. This should be easy to do – there aren’t many new ideas out there, and chances are the discussion you’re having will trigger old memories and past experiences. Use those to help you retain incoming information.

Can I evaluate the best path? 

It’s at this stage where you can begin to prepare for your response, but remember: you’re still a listener, not a speaker. After the message has been absorbed, processed, and remembered, you can begin to sort the information into pieces.

  • What is fact, and what is opinion?
  • Was the person demonstrating any particular prejudice with their message?
  • What portions of the message, if any, were exaggerated?
  • What parts of their message were interpreted, and which parts were unbiased?
  • What was the person’s intent with their message?

After interpreting the person’s message, through a combination of understanding, retention, and evaluation, you’re ready to form a response.

How will I respond? 

If you’ve completed the receiving, understanding, remembering, and evaluating portions of the listening process, responding should be easier than ever. You’ll be prepared to address the person’s most important points, with an awareness of the circumstances and context surrounding their words.

It’s important to understand the transition between listening and speaking though, and be aware of the ways responding is still a part of the active listening process.

Don’t complete the person’s sentences.

This is a presumptuous and not the most effective way to segue into your own response during a coaching session. It impedes on the receiving process, and will make the person want to listen to you less.

Address the person’s points.

While each stage seems like a lengthy process, this all happens in a very short amount of time, and should feel natural during a conversation. All you’re doing by practicing these tips is making yourself more conscious of the way you communicate.


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