Observant listening skills are not just for senior management or famous leaders. Certainly, when we think of great leaders that listened well that list includes, Ronald Reagan, Richard Branson, and the late Stephen Covey.
As stated by Mike Myatt, Chairman of N2Gworth, “If you’re ready for advanced listening skills, don’t just listen to those who agree with you, but actively seek out dissenting opinions and thoughts. Listen to those that confront you, challenge you, stretch you, and develop you. True wisdom doesn’t see opposition, only opportunity.”
The art of listening is an active skill, not just a passive attitude. Effective leaders that listen well are observant and truly present when they are in situations where full attention is critical for a productive outcome. What are the capabilities of an effective listener? Begin by practicing these skills to be proficient:
- Recognize that listening is not about preparing a response to the speaker. It has been the convention of many of us to think of how we must respond rather than focusing on the content or meaning from the speaker. Don’t interrupt the speaker or wait for them to stop talking so you can start disclosing your own beliefs.
- Respect the mood of the situation and the speaker’s presence. Our conversations can be influenced by outside factors such as, intense emotions over a specific workplace event, a transgression to internal value structures; or even, the fear of being laid off. As the leader, you will want to relax your posture. You may help the speaker remain composed by restating what you heard. It is not uncommon to respond with “May I repeat to you what I understand from your discussion?”
- Along with recognizing mood, notice the speaker’s gestures, body language, and facial expressions. Don’t be reassured into thinking that because someone is not saying something they’re not communicating. In many cultures, people don’t explicitly verbalize opposition or disagreement, but almost continuously deliver a very distinct message with their non-verbal response.
- Sometimes critical decisions need to be postponed due to heartbreaking distress; consider whether a decision is premature. Agree with the speaker this is acceptable and set a date for when you can revisit the issue to achieve closure.