How to Lead by Listening

leaders listening

By Selling Power Editors

Have you ever heard the saying that humans “listen half, understand a quarter, think zero, and react double”?

In his book, Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders, Steven R. Shallenberger cites this as one of his favorite quotes. Why? He’s found that communication is one of the top concerns among the executives and leaders he’s worked with around the globe.

“Our clients are always looking for ways to improve their communication,” he writes. “But few of them realize that better communication begins not with speaking or expressing yourself, but with listening to others.”

Communication is the heart of business and a classic leadership skill. “Whether we’re talking about a personal relationship in the home or landing a $100,000 business deal, understanding the other person and being a highly effective communicator can make all the difference in the world,” writes Shallenberger.

Tip #1: Listen with empathy in mind.

When it comes to listening skills, you want to strive to listen in an empathetic way. That means you must do more than simply understand the content of what the person is saying.

Shallenberger says many leaders listen “with the goal of finding a solution or resolution rather than simply trying to understand the person’s feelings as well as his words.” But, if you want to capture the hearts and minds of the people you hope to influence, you must seek to connect with them on an emotional level.

Tip #2: Make eye contact.

When you’re talking face to face, don’t let your attention wander. The best way to do this is to make good eye contact.

True leaders understand how to hold someone’s gaze as they’re speaking. They do so in a way that makes the speaker feel he’s the most important person in the world. Maintaining steady eye contact conveys that you are fully present and receptive. When speakers sense this energy from you, they’ll be more open and feel that you’re someone they can trust.

Tip #3: Pause and repeat what you think you’ve heard the person say.

Providing feedback on what you’ve just heard is a critical component of active listening. Shallenberger suggests using such phrases as, “Just to make sure I understand, you’re saying that …” or, “I want to get this clear in my head: you feel that ….”

The mark of a great leader is the ability to pause and provide your understanding of what you’ve just heard. This is evidence that we’re truly listening. What if you missed something or misheard? Perfect – now you can work to create alignment. If you had not stopped to repeat what you heard, you wouldn’t have known there was a problem.

When practicing this skill, make sure your tone and manner aren’t hostile, defensive, or patronizing. “If it’s sincere, it shouldn’t feel like an interrogation,” Shallenberger writes.

When you listen openly, sincerely, and empathetically, you become the kind of leader that people want to follow.

As Shallenberger puts it: “Think about the people you value as mentors and guides in your life, and you’ll probably realize that one of the things you value most about them is that they are willing to listen to what you have to say.”

What are some of your best tips for leaders who want to become active and engaged listeners? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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