Leadership is not always about having people follow you.  It is also about being an example for others to look up to and about being a person of good character and morals.  There are many skills a leader must have and one of the most important ones is to be a strong listener.  Good leaders truly do listen more than they speak and they let people follow their actions, more than their words.  Listening is a skill that is not only difficult to do but humbling since it requires great discipline to simply be quite and talk less than you listen.  It sounds simple, it is, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.  Here are some ways to become a better listener and show leadership in that listening.

  1. Segue Into Conversation
  2. Purposefully Eliminate Interruptions (technology, multitasking, etc)
  3. Hold Back the Urge To Speak
  4. Interact Passively

Segue Into Conversation

In order to listen well in a conversation you must be able to focus on it.  When a conversation first starts, you are almost always already doing something with your mind thinking about that so it can be difficult to immediately be attentive in conversation as a listener.  That is where a segue comes in handy. A segue is simply a smooth transition from one topic to another, or in this case, from one activity to another. It can be a brief statement or action that you do to trigger your mind to switch towards the conversation so you can engage fully in listening attentively.  A number of things can work as a segue, you just need to find and use your own method for switching tasks into an active conversation.  It is best to find both an action and a statement to use.

  • Action – this could be something as simple as stepping or spinning away from your work area or computer to start a new conversation.
  • Statement – the other part of a strong segue is to make a statement about starting a conversation.  This works well to help you shift your mindset and shows the other person(s) that you are truly listening attentively.  It might sound like, “OK, just one second here, let me step away from what I was doing, can you start again from the start and you now have my full attention”.

Purposefully Eliminate Interruptions

Interruptions in conversations are terribly distracting and disruptive to both people and quite frankly, they are often unintentionally disrespectful.  Everything from email and cell phones to bosses or other people stepping in to break a conversation that is already in place.  It is your job to eliminate these as best you can.  The segue can help if you have stepped away from your work area and computer, you can turn off your cell phone and leave it ‘out of sight’, and you can kindly ask people who do interrupt to wait or let you get back to them shortly after you have finished your conversation.  Every step you take to show you are focused on the other individual shows them respect and allows you to be a good listener, which you cannot do effectively with distractions.

Hold Back the Urge to Speak

Listening requires one really important point.  You simply need to shut up, and listen.  It’s simple but hard to do.  Listening really requires more than simply not speaking but also the urge to speak.  When we have the urge to speak even if we don’t open our mouths our minds are already thinking about what we want to say and we stop listening when we do this.  This is the danger of the urge to speak, long before we actually add our two bits to a conversation.  Learning to hold back the urge to speak takes a lot of discipline and practice.  The best way I’ve learned to do this is to focus on rewording what the other person is saying as they are saying it so our mind is busy really thinking about what they said instead of formulating our own response.  This ensures you are listening.  The only danger with this internal rewording is to get lost in translation and lose focus on continuing to listen.  I suggest you use verbal paraphrases and reflection with the other person when you need to slow them down or stop for thinking a bit longer on what they said.  This will also show you are really thinking about what they are saying and not just holding your tongue.

When you do finally have something to add or comment on in a conversation, ensure you wait for an obvious pause and count a few seconds before responding.  You want to ensure the other person is truly done expressing their thoughts and ready to stop and listen to you.  After all, what good will your comment have if they are not listening to you because you interrupted their thought.  Slowing down a conversation gives you more time to think about what you do have to say and a lot more time to think about and reflect on what others have to say.  This is a skill of all great leaders and one that is valuable in every relationship you will develop.

Interact Passively

Interacting as a listener must be done with careful skill to not interrupt or break the other person’s train of thought but still enable you to show interest and engagement in the conversation.  Interaction with the other person in conversation will help you stay focused on what you hear without having your mind wander from what the other person is saying.  Passive interaction can be many things:

  • Nodding to show agreement or understanding
  • Verbal cues like ‘uhha’, ‘OK’, ‘go on’, ‘hmm’, ‘I see’, etc
  • Leaning toward the person to show interest
  • Facial expressions to show reaction or impact to what was said

Keep in mind each of these interactions should be subtle and not distract the other person in their part of the conversation.  Show your interest, but don’t interrupt them or break their train of thought.  More interactive methods I mentioned earlier can be used but only at the appropriate time such as paraphrasing or responding with questions or reflection on their ideas to expand and explore a topic in more detail.  It allows you to have the person tell you more without putting your own ideas or opinions out their yet.  All these methods are important in conversation to keep a high level of interaction in place while remaining passive as a listener and not taking over a conversation.

Prev: How to Reduce Stress and Have Better Coping With Stress
Next: Integrity Right to the Core