Active Listening: an Essential Leadership Skill
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Being a great leader is not just about what you say and do, it involves listening to the voices of others too. Active listening is an essential leadership skill and core component of emotional intelligence. How many times have employees within organisations said that they just want their voices to be heard? People want leaders who listen to them, and doing so is a very effective way to inspire and motivate them.
What does it take to be a good listener?
Active listening goes above and beyond simply being quiet and paying attention. It involves body language, participation and exploring the conversation. There are many components that contribute to this skill, here are a few major ones:
6 Components of Active Listening
1. Undivided Attention: Pay attention to what the other person is saying and avoid being distracted by your own thoughts and thinking of what you are going to say next. Ensure your phone is away so that you’re able to give the person your undivided attention. If you’re not able to, it may be able to reschedule for another time that you can. Giving someone your undivided attention demonstrates respect.
2. Body Language: Show that you are listening through your body language. This can be done through eye contact, nodding your head, facial expressions, short statements such as ‘yes’ and ‘mhmmmm’ and keeping your body turned in the same direction as the person you are listening to.
3. Withhold Judgement: Leaders need to be receptive to new ideas, perspectives and ways of doing things. Maintain an open mind while listening and avoid jumping to conclusions. While you may have an opinion, active listening involves allowing the other person to express theirs without interjections or criticism. Allow the person to have time to think and speak before responding or contributing your perspective.
4. Seek Clarity: If you are not sure or do not understand what the person is getting at don’t be afraid to ask questions. Open-ended questions are great tools for learning more about the person and expanding the conversation.
5. Restate What You Hear: Restating the underlying themes you hear in a conversation shows the other person that you understand what they are saying and are truly listening. It also allows them to realise if their point is not coming across clearly and rectify it in the event that what you have restated does not align with what they are trying to communicate.
6. Share: Active listening begins with understanding, and ends with being understood. As the conversation progresses feel free to deepen it by contributing your own perspective, experiences and ideas. This will build a rapport and positive relationship.
The Impact of Active Listening
Listening builds trust, creates transparency and fosters loyalty. Active listening also give leaders insight and makes them more mindful of the stress and tension points of those they lead. It encourages stronger communication between leaders and team members and drives engagement. It can also act as an indispensable soft skill during the conflict resolution process.
By taking the time to master this skill leaders can go from simply being leaders to being influential leaders within their respective organisations. Going the extra mile and encouraging employees to learn active listening skills or providing them with training can truly transform an organisation and team culture.