Some leaders are born with natural abilities, but most leaders develop over time. Leadership involves not only managing and motivating people but also developing relationships with those you lead.
One significant way to develop trust among those you lead is to be a good listener. Listening leaders strengthen both professional and personal relationships by intentionally leaning in and creating space to hear others.
Most of us are not naturally good listeners. It’s a skill that can be developed and, used effectively, can help you build a cohesive team. Active listening takes practice. It requires emotional intelligence. Good leaders intentionally work toward becoming strong listeners. What does that look like?
- Ask questions – Instead of expecting others to simply tell you exactly what they need or think, you learn to ask powerful questions. Ask questions about how they are doing, not just what they are doing. Questions can lead to a great discovery about the other person and also gives them opportunities to share ideas, opinions, and perspectives. Asking questions lets them know you want their input and feedback. When you ask a question and truly listen, you begin to earn trust. Ask questions to clarify so you can deepen your understanding of the other person.
- Be present – Make eye contact. Don’t just listen to what they are saying. Observe what is going on non-verbally. Notice their body language and facial expressions. You have a busy schedule and things to do, but don’t let yourself think about the next meeting or conversation. Focus on the person you are with and listen to remember. If you need to jot down notes to help you remember what they are saying, do that. Or as soon as the conversation is over, make a practice of taking a few notes so you will retain what you learned in the new conversation.
- Don’t interrupt – When you interrupt someone in the middle of a conversation, you discourage transparency and trust. Instead, you communicate, whether intentionally or not, that what you think is more important than what they may want to share. Take time to be an active listener by letting them know you hear them. You can respond by nodding your head or repeating back to them what you’ve heard so you can make sure you understand what they are saying.
- Minimize distractions – Close your laptop. Mute your phone and put it away. Face the person speaking. Let them know that they have your attention and that you want to hear what they have to say. Knowing you are heard is a powerful experience. This also means that creating space in your schedule for opportunities to listen is important. If your schedule is so full that each meeting bumps into the next, then listening will be rushed and lack authenticity.
Creating a culture where individuals feel heard and empowered to share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings leads to cohesion, improved communication, and a stronger team. It starts with the leader. If you don’t take the time to intentionally learn what it takes to develop into a listening leader, then your team suffers.
What will you begin doing this week to develop into a stronger listening leader?