Listen up: If you want to be a better leader, it’s not just about what you say or do. To be a better leader, business person, even human being, you have to be a better listener.
Most of us think we’re great listeners already—and most of us are wrong. Consider this quick quiz: When listening to someone, do you ever drum your fingers on the desk, check your email, text, browse the Internet, fine your mind wandering, or realize you don’t know where the conversation went?
If you’re honest, the answer is yes. Listening well is hard work, and no one can do it perfectly all the time. Listening is like any other vital skill; if you want to be better, and you always should, you have to constantly keep working to improve. The simple act of tuning in proves you care, makes people feel important, earns you instant respect, and proves you are open to better ways of doing things. When tuned out, we tell others that we don’t care what we’re saying and usually miss key information, drop the ball, or even damage a relationship.
What is active listening?
Active listening is the practice of providing feedback to the speaker through restating or summarizing what the speaker said. Much more than parroting, active listening is a way of illustrating what was heard and confirming understanding between both parties. The purpose of active listening is to increase comprehension, boost retention, and encourage more engaged responses and productive communication.
1 Quit multitasking
When someone is speaking, clear all other tasks and distractions out of the way. Close email, put down the smartphone, and peel your eyes from the computer screen. If now isn’t a good time to focus your entire attention on the speaker, be honest and ask for a few minutes to finish what needs to get done. People will feel valued and respected, plus know they will have your full attention later.
2 Emphasize observation
Great listening is, first and foremost, about observation. What do your ears tell you about the speaker’s tone and state of mind? What do visual cues in their body language show you about their attitude and comfort level? Focus on the speaker’s nonverbal cues to clue into what they’re really saying. Even if communication isn’t in person, you can tell a lot from talking on the phone if you pay attention.
3 Don’t jump to judgments
Active listening isn’t about judging. If people feel that you’ve made up your mind before you understand, you’ve lost them, and they won’t be as willing to share ideas next time. Instead of thinking about how to respond before the speaker finishes, work on earning your validation as someone who takes the time to understand. Active listening isn’t about judging before someone is done, it’s about proving you get what the person is saying.
4 Communicate with nonverbal cues
Active listening involves paraphrasing the main points you just heard back to the speaker, but the idea isn’t just to mirror what someone just said. The practice leverages nonverbal observation as a gateway to better understanding, and as a listener you can project nonverbal messages to show you’re paying attention. You don’t have to nod constantly, which makes people look like bobble heads. Illustrate your alert attention with open posture, folded hands, and good eye contact.
5 Be patient
Active listening is helpful because it gives you a better rapport and understanding of those you work with, but also because it paves the way to create a better audience when you’re ready to speak. When people feel you have really heard them, they are more open to listening in return. By listening well, you are better positioned to introduce your own ideas, feelings, and suggestions. Practice the art of patience when listening—when you’re ready to speak, you’ll have earned an ear of your own.
Great listening is essential to great leadership. Being a good listener is one of the best ways to earn people’s respect, not to mention learn helpful ideas. When those you work with know they have your undivided attention, they’re more likely to give you theirs as well. Some people are naturally talented listeners, but most of us have to spend time working on developing the skill. If you invest in being a better listener, you’ll be a better leader who’s more able to solve problems and understand people’s needs.
Kyle Zagrodzky is president of OsteoStrong, the health and wellness system that boosts bone and muscle strength in less than 10 minutes a week using scientifically proven osteogenic loading concepts. OsteoStrong introduced a new era in modern fitness and aging prevention two years ago and has since helped thousands of clients between ages eight and 92 improve strength, balance, endurance, and bone density. In 2014, the brand signed commitments with nine regional developers to launch 500 new locations across America.