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Listening…The most important leadership skill?

Statues listening heads to a brick red wall

Over the weekend I was listening to the Simon Sinek podcast series and the theme ‘listening to others’ came up in several episodes. Check out Episode 41. Hope with Shamma Al Mazrui from 7th December 2021 for a great summary on why listening is so important to our future success.

It got me thinking ‘Is listening the greatest leadership skill we can have as a leader?’

The arguments for include the advantages it gives you as a leader such as

  • The knowledge of whats going on at all levels of your business, perspective of the market, competitive intelligence,

  • It shows your teams you care and helps establish trust

  • It opens your mind up to new and creative ideas

  • It helps you build empathy and improves your Emotion Intelligence (EQ)

Also lets remember those cautionary tales of businesses that didn’t listen and have gone by the wayside: Kodak, Blockbuster, Blackberry. We don’t want to be one of those examples, do we?

I also believe our future reliance on the new digital/ hybrid way of working will only increase the importance of listening. So, in conclusion I believe there is a strong case to be made for listening being the greatest leadership skill we can have.

All listening is not equal.

What are the qualities of good listening?

We all know that waiting for your turn to speak isn’t listening at all. I am sure none of you do this and label it as listening.

‘The quality of our listening determines the quality of our influence.’

There are 2 levels of listening: Focused and Active/360.

Focused: We hear the words but don’t fully connect.

Active/360: Focus on what has been said but also what they don’t say.

We want to aim for the active listening as much as possible, increasing the % of time we are actively listening.

QUESTION - How much of your day are you actively listening?

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said. – Peter Drucker

The Chinese symbol for listening helps us remember the practical elements of listening we need to keep improving.

Traditional Chinese symbol for listen simon sinek analogy

We have ears to hear the words, including the tone and pace of the speaker.

We have our eyes to see the body language and connect with the person building rapport.

We have our mind to think and to consider the words, process their meaning in a certain way

We have our heart to listen with our emotions, Empathy and Compassion.

The interesting single line through the middle of the character represents our requirement to focus.

So how do we improve our listening skills. Here are some of my ‘Top Tips to Improve your Listening Skills’.

  1. Remove all distractions like emails, phone etc. Think about the place you are meeting in or the platform you are meeting on; make sure the environment is not distracting. (I hate it when I’m talking to someone, and they are looking over my head at the rest of the room. Or you can hear and see them react to incoming emails whilst on a video call.)

  2. Maintain eye contact. This is a basic pillar of building rapport. Make sure you are relaxed though, there is no need to stare…that is just creepy.

  3. Don’t become defensive in your mind. Keep an open mind. Sometimes when what the person is saying affects us and the business we run, we start to move to a defensive position in our heads. Spot this if it happens and tell yourself to listen first. You need to get all the information you can get to defend against it. So listen first.

  4. Don’t interrupt. Bite your tongue, put your hand over your mouth, using physical reminders to not interrupt works a treat.

  5. Breath. If there is a pause breathing before you speak can give both parties a moment to reset. The person might not have finished and so its also good to give them some space to check that they have said everything they want to say.

  6. Speak less by asking more questions. Ask questions to clarify understanding.

  7. Summarize briefly and then give the person the last words to clarify that you have heard them correctly.

Although I don’t endorse any of the courses below (because I haven’t tried them personally) I was interested to see there are courses available out there to improve your listening skills.



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