Leadership Advice

5 ways leaders can become better listeners

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

For some people, good listening comes naturally. That’s especially the case for introverts, who like to process information before commenting. Extroverts get energized by the words of others and often chime right in with their thoughts, including while others are speaking.

Whatever your personality type, if you’re a leader, you need to be a good listener. Listening is a gift to your teammates. It’s an important tool in your tool kit. It can help you succeed, whatever your role.

Here’s a checklist for better listening:

Do you refrain from cutting people off? 

If you’re extroverted or impatient, you really have to work at this. Make a commitment to let people express a complete thought to you. If you have people on your team who meander and can’t get to the point, have a talk with them about that rather than interrupting them day after day. Tell them you’re working to get better at listening and you need them to help by starting with a headline or a lead.

Do you repeat back to people what you heard them say? 

One sure way to prove you’ve paid attention is to restate the other person’s message. It need not be word for word, but a good summary. If you’re not really listening, it’s hard to do this. By making it a habit, you are training yourself to be a better listener. You’re also giving people a chance to tell you whether you did indeed hear them correctly.

Do you ask good questions, building on what you’ve heard? 

Good questions demonstrate your interest in the subject and the person. That’s especially the case if you truly stay on topic. Often, people known for poor listening skills quickly redirect the conversation toward their own agenda. That leaves people feeling shut down — and unheard.

Are you “all in”? 

Good listeners are fully present. Eye contact. Body language. Intentionally ignoring distractions (“I’ll let that call go to voicemail so we can finish”). Using emotional intelligence to match or change the mood and pace of the other person. All of these actions signify your commitment to truly tuning in to others.

Do you follow up?

Good listening isn’t measured only in the moment. What you do after a conversation is equally important. The span of time between a conversation and your followup action is often the way people measure whether you got their message and it really mattered. Even when you can’t take immediate action on something, you can send a followup note to say you’re working on it, rather than leaving that person wondering or worse yet, worrying. 

One final tip: If you’re working on being a better listener, let people know, especially folks for whom you know it really matters. Ask them to give you feedback — negative and positive — on how you’re doing. It will keep you honest — and, if you’re making progress, you’ll get the credit you’ve earned.

© Jill Geisler


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