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Listening and leadership

Joelle Jay

Listening is one of the most critical communication skills for leaders.

And yet it is one of the most overlooked.

Taking the effort to listen well can greatly enhance your effectiveness with others,whether they’re direct reports, colleagues, or even your boss.

Why is listening so important? Because it permeates virtually every single human interaction.As a result, listening can affect everything from rapport to team cohesiveness to whether you can get people to follow your lead.

The advantages of listening are numerous.

Good listeners communicate respect for other people.

They show themselves to be open-minded and receptive.

They collect good ideas from a variety of sources before they make a decision, and they develop strong relationships with people who contribute to their success.And the good news is, learning to listen can be easy.

Many good listeners are naturally so.

But how can you improve your listening skills if it comes as more of a challenge? The suggestions below give you a place to start.

Develop the intention to listen.

Many people don’t listen well because they never intend to in the first place.

Instead, they form ideas in their mind while another person is speaking.

They may simply wait for their turn to speak, not paying attention whatsoever to the ideas coming their way, or they may even tune others out and focus on something else entirely.

(If you’ve ever been in an exceptionally long meeting, you know how this feels.) The intention to listen, in contrast, is open, patient, and respectful.

It requires focusing on the speaker and hearing every word that they say,with the express purpose of understanding it fully.

If you never practice any other aspect of listening, setting the sincere intention to listen will markedly improve your skill.

Develop the posture of listening.

No matter how good your intention, you simply cannot make another person feel heard if you look like you’re not paying attention.

The biggest error listeners make is looking away when others speak.

That includes checking email, skimming the headlines, or even perusing a menu.

The posture of listening, like the mindset of listening, is open and respectful.You communicate with your body language.Make direct (but not intimidating) eye contact with others.Avoid crossing your arms and legs.

Face people squarely.

Use your physical presence to let others know you are ready to receive whatever they have to say.

Practice the skills of good listening.

You’ve been listening to other people your whole life, and chances are you’ve experienced many good habits along the way.

The trick is simply to remember what those habits are when you’re engaged in conversation and practice them consistently.Here are some of the top skills to practice.

1.

Repeat back to people what they have told you.Allow them to confirm whether or not you’ve gotten it right don’t just assume you’ve heard them correctly.

2.

Express an awareness of others’ emotions.

Just saying,”I can see you’re upset,” or “Wow, you’re sure excited about something!” can go a long way toward making a personal connection.

3.

Respond appropriately.Avoid launching into a story of your own.

Instead, ask a thoughtful question,make a comment that furthers the discussion, or simply encourage the speaker to go on.

Avoid unproductive comments.

Unfortunately, some of the most common responses to listening are also the least effective.

Repeatedly mumbling “uh-huh, uhhuh,” telling people what you’re thinking, and giving them advice (unless they’ve asked for it) are all turn-offs for speakers, who can easily get the message that what they’re saying is of little importance to you.

Remember the value of silence.

Next time you have the opportunity, observe a conversation of which you are not a part.Notice how fast the pace moves.A normal conversation leaves little time for speakers to breathe,much less let each other finish speaking or take the time to develop a thoughtful response.

Slow down.You will automatically become a better listener.

Know what you are listening for.

The nature of an interaction can differ depending on its purpose.

Identify it from the outset.

Get a sense of whether you’re listening for emotion (e.g.

if someone is coming to you because they’re upset), facts (e.g.

if you’re trying to understand a situation), or a way to help (e.g.

if someone needs something from you).You can discover the purpose of any conversation by simply asking yourself,”What does this person want?” Use your strengths.

Whether or not you consider yourself a good listener, chances are you have some great characteristics that can aid in your listening.

Are you compassionate? Do you take good notes? Are you good at giving people your undivided attention? Are you especially analytical or good at helping people discern a solution? Use these talents consciously in your conversations to help you communicate effectively Listening well takes effort.

The good news is, it isn’t hard.

In fact, it can be one of the easiest, most effective ways to make a dramatic difference in the way others perceive you and in your relationships with them.

The effects on your leadership can be limitless.

Joelle Jay is the owner and president of Reno’sPillar Consulting, LLC, a leadership development practice (www.pillar-consulting.

com) specializing in leadership and personal effectiveness.

She coaches business leaders and executives in achieving success while maintaining the healthy life balance that keeps them at their best.

Email her at Joelle@pillar-consulting.com.