5 Tips for Leaders Who Listen

There just might be something to this whole listening thing. Thanks, Captain Obvious, you might be thinking. What you don’t know is that I actually have a whole superhero get-up I don when I transform into Captain Obvious. Like any superhero outfit, there are tights involved. I’ll spare you any further details.

Listening is one of those funny skills that most people think they’re good at, while most other people think those first people aren’t really all that great at it. If you think about it, it’s a tricky one from a self-awareness perspective. I mean, you don’t actually ever experience what others do when they talk with you because, well, you’re you. You can’t possibly perfectly process how your communication is received and perceived by others.

But that doesn’t give us an excuse to throw up our hands and just continue nodding and smiling when others are talking with us. Leaders within organizations have the responsibility to work hard to listen to their teams. And because the business world needs another list of things to help people listen better, here you go:

1. Don’t assume. (I don’t need to spell out the old adage, right?) People might not be thinking what you think they’re thinking in a given situation, and they might not mean what you think they mean when they’re talking.

2. Leggo your ego. No, not Eggo. Ego. You’ve got to resist the urge to think only about how you’re going to respond to someone as they’re speaking. We all have limited processing capacity (some more limited than others), so we need to focus as much of that energy as we can on the other person or people talking. Listening is about them, not you.

3. Don’t miss the forest. When in conversation or a meeting, try to detect overarching themes in what folks are saying. Their delivery may not be flawless, but focus on the message. Don’t be distracted by every little thing they may flippantly say in the course of their speaking.

4. Know that the speaker may not even know the real message. Intense feelings and opinions can be layered under all sorts of things: verbal clutter, fidgeting, posture, tone, and so on. A great listener figures out what the speaker is trying to say, whether they do a good job saying it or not.

5. Understand the underlying perspective. People approach organizational life differently, and that approach will dictate how they communicate. Understanding those angles will help you better empathize with others.

Thanks for listening. Now I’m going to go back to paying attention to the colleague sitting across the desk talking to me.

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