Why the Best Leaders Shut Up and Listen
Listening is a requirement of an excellent leader, yet most of us suck at it.
I have by no means perfected the art of listening. I strive to be an engaging and inspiring leader which forces me to level up my ability to listen. We go through our daily lives, retaining only 25% of the information we heard (Harvard Business Review).
Our brain isn’t capable of retaining 100% of the information we listened to. But 25% is highly disappointing.
Take a moment to think about the best listeners you know in your life. What is their body language? How do they show you they’re listening?
Before we dive into the secret sauce of active and engaged listening, let’s uncover why it matters in the first place. Our teams, families, and friends all need to be heard. We are wired biologically to connect to our fellow humans, especially those closest to us (Psychology Today).
Our responsibility as leaders is to ensure every single member of our team feels heard and empowered. No one likes to be talked over or talked at. If we want to connect on a deeper level with our people, we need to listen.
Let’s dive into the five secret sauce tips for listening:
- Focus — As a leader, it’s imperative to carve out time to focus on listening to your people entirely. Yes, thoughts will arise in your head; you will think about responding, but ignore those voices in your head and give your entire focus to the person talking.
- Shut Up and Listen — Stop interjecting when other people are talking. Don’t say yes. I know what you mean. That happened to me last week! If you are listening, you will be engaging with the person talking and their story, not yours.
- Active Body Language — The classic head nod will do the trick. Don’t be a bobblehead, but be engaged. Instead of saying yes, I know what you mean, nod your head with a facial expression of I hear you. Be on the edge of your seat; you are not listening if you are leaning back in your chair.
- Silence — Be comfortable with silence. Instead of thinking about your response while the other person is talking, give them your full listening attention. Then, pause and take a moment to respond after the person is done talking. After they speak is an excellent time to say I hear you, then follow up with a question digging deeper into what they’re saying.
- Reflect — Odds are you didn’t nail the previous four secret sauce requirements for listening, and that’s okay. After your conversation, ask yourself, what did I do well? How could I have improved as a listener in this situation? Then give yourself reminders for the following conversation on how you will ensure a better experience for the person you are listening to.
I’m curious, which of these five secret sauce tips sticks out to you most? Who do you look up to for guidance on listening in leadership?
For me, I struggle most with the very first tip, arguably the most important one. Often, I get distracted by various thoughts or by something else in my environment. My girlfriend will also most certainly remind you that I am not always a focused listener.
The reason I’m writing this article is for accountability to be an incredible listener. To remind myself if I want to elevate as a leader, I need to level up my listening abilities.