Why Active Listening is Key to Leadership

Have you ever been in a meeting and a person cuts you off before you finish what you were saying? How does that make you feel? In this picture, if you look closely you can pick out who is actively listening to the speaker? This is a very typical picture of a company meeting where a few are really engaged and others’ are disengaged or their minds are wandering. Active listening is not just the soft stuff. It is required for all relationships and connections you will make in business and in social settings . While it is critical for leading a team, it is equally important when you are engaging with a new client on an upcoming project. Anyway you look at it, if you want to be a great leader, you need to learn how to actively listen to others. Here are a few tips to help you:

  • First you need to suspend your own internal dialogue and stay present to the other person. Don’t interrupt. It is very common for a person to interrupt another before they finish their thoughts. Be patient.
  • Make eye contact at least about 70% of the time. Lean forward and nod your head occasionally.
  • Watch body language like facial expressions and tone of voice to catch the meaning of what is being said.
  • Ask questions, particularly open-ended questions to keep the conversation going and to clarify any points you may not understand.
  • Recap what the person said rather than immediately offer your advice or opinion. This shows you hear them.
  • Avoid judgement while listening but rather be curious of why the person is expressing what they are saying.

I like the expression that you should listen to understand WHAT is right, not to BE right. Or another great perspective is to listen to LEARN and be CURIOUS, not to respond. This takes patience, presence, practice and interest in the other person. Don’t under-estimate the value of actively listening to another person.