Shut up and Listen

When my husband and I first started dating, we didn’t see each other that often, but every time we did, he would ask me a question related to a discussion from our previous date.  The fact that he remembered details I’d shared, from in some cases over a week in the past, made me feel valued, appreciated, interesting and respected.

One role of an effective leader is to make team members feel valued, appreciated, interesting and respected.  That is why effective leaders spend more time listening than talking.   They understand that listening helps team and business success.

Listening, really listening, is not an easy thing to do.  Hearing is easy, but listening takes time, it takes commitment and it takes an open mind.  For those of us who are listening-challenged, the good news is that listening is a skill that can be learned.

Here is a list of five things great listeners do:

  1. Focus physically on the speaker. They face the person squarely, lean in slightly, keep an open body posture and maintain eye contact. Their body says “What you are saying is important and I am focusing on you and what you have to say.”
  2. Do not allow external distractions to interfere.  They are not looking at their watch, the clock on the wall or their cell phone.  They are not checking for emails.  They ask for calls to be held or they put the phone on do not disturb.  They ask to move a conversation to a quieter place if necessary.
  3. Stay in the moment. They don’t think about what they are going to say next.  Instead, they listen to the speaker’s point and then formulate a response or question.
  4. Keep an open mind.  They don’t allow assumptions, perceptions or internal distractions to interfere with the listening process.  They don’t make up their mind to agree or disagree before the conversation is finished.
  5. Ask questions to ensure understanding.  Active listeners make sure they really understand by asking clarifying questions. 

Bonus:  Effective leaders and great listeners don’t jump in with solutions or ideas. They ask questions to ensure understanding and encourage the speaker to formulate their own ideas and solutions.

Becoming a great listener takes time and practice, but it’s worth it.  When people feel their knowledge, ideas and suggestions are welcomed, valued and respected, teams and businesses are more successful.

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