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Leadership Starts with Listening

Originally published on on October 1, 2017

Five Ways to Lead by Listening

There are clear differences between listening to someone and just hearing what they say. Listening is an active process that facilitates the conversations necessary to building a solid relationship. When a leadership listens to a team member, they are not only learning about their team member’s concerns and feedback, but they’re building the social capital necessary to develop strong professional relationships.

There are five actions that an efficient leader takes when actively engaging a team member. They are attentive to the person speaking, they monitor themselves so they invite confidence and trust, at proper times they give thoughtful feedback, they are not judgmental or dismissive, and they make time for their team members to speak with them.

Be Attentive

It is impossible for anyone to fully comprehend what a speaker is saying if they are not paying attention to what is being said. “Everyone carries around a smartphone or tablet, people don’t focus on each other when they’re together,” states in one article. Being distracted by gadgets or other things will detract from any conversation.

Be present in the moment and look at the speaker. An efficient leader knows when to set aside memos, reports, smartphones, etc. and give their full attention to the team member talking to them. They will practice reading their tone and body language as well as hearing them. This way they can pick up on the unspoken conversation as well as the spoken one to better address the team member.

Actively Monitor

Leaders need to be cautious when conversing with a team member. Even slight changes in the tone of voice and body language can send the wrong message. If a leader seems disinterested or distracted, the team member will likely seek to conclude the conversation and think twice about any future conversations.

In this way, leaders can be their own worst enemy. Having an impatient or dismissive air once could create a much larger problem than terminating a single conversation early with some members of the team. It could take away key insights one or more team members have because they are afraid to approach their lead.

Leadership that listens will be mindful of their own responses, as well as how they make those responses known to their employees.

Give Feedback

A crucial part of listening is knowing when to respond or give feedback. Offering feedback doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. Anything from a quick reiteration to a clarifying question can offer the right kind of feedback at the right time.

Melissa Diamler, the former head of Learning and Organizational Development for Twitter, suggests that simple questions like “What do you think?” can have a profound effect. She says, “When I ask this question, my team has a better answer than I do — or one that I hadn’t thought about before.”

However, you decide to deliver feedback, make sure it’s succinct and helpful enough to generate further thought within the conversation.

Don’t Judge

Everyone has an opinion and leaders must have the self-awareness to know that they bring their own biases and expectations to each conversation. However, according to Cathy Wellings, the Head of the London School of International Communication, leaders need to “suspend judgement or evaluation until [they] have heard and assessed everything.”

Effective leaders are aware of the importance of setting their own opinions aside and focusing on having an open mind. Failure to set aside opinions, biases, etc. can result losing valuable ideas and insights. Successful leaders strive to keep all possible options open by keeping their ideals minimized as much as possible.

Make Time

Finally, if a leader does not make time for team members, then they won’t have conversations until it is too late. Efficient leaders know they need to be available and approachable, and if they can’t accommodate an employee conversation, then they make a plan to promptly follow up. Making time for your team members to bring concerns and ideas to you is a huge part of establishing a healthy relationship between you and your team.

No one wants to be left feeling like a cog in a machine, and few people want to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Good leaders understand that. They listen and take their responsibilities to the next level, because, as it is stated in article, “Listening is a leadership responsibility that does not appear on the job description. They know that leading a team by actively listening everyone successful. It helps elevate the company culture and advocate peak performance.