Leadership involves being a good listener. We should always try to empathize and do our best to understand what other people are attempting to tell us. Whether it is about an idea, a concern, a dissenting opinion, or simply sharing a personal situation, leaders should do their best to become active listeners. In communication, it is the leader’s job to do everything he/she can do to grasp and comprehend the messages of others. Here are 5 tips that will help you be a better listener as a leader.
1. Be Motivated
In anything we do, motivation plays a key role. It is wrong to think that listening is easy. It isn’t. There are many distractions and other thoughts that can creep into our minds if we let them. If we are disinterested in listening, we won’t hear the message. If we are easily distracted in our own clever thoughts, we won’t hear the message. It is imperative that as a listener, we push ourselves to understand the message by being motivated to listen. By pushing ourselves to listen, we will have a greater understanding of what is being said.
This simple tip reminds us that listening requires attentiveness and focus. Both are essential in grasping a message. It isn’t easy to listen to other people when we have so much on our own minds. Thus, we must make a concerted effort to listen.
2. Be Open Minded
A common flaw with most leaders is that they do not truly listen, they are just waiting for an opportunity to interject and say what they want to say. Waiting for your turn to speak is not listening. Clear your mind and do your best to not only hear what is being said but understand the reason and intention behind it.
We cannot expect to always agree with other people, but we should always show them respect and the courteousness to hear them out. Sometimes being open minded can change our views by allowing us to learn, grow, and become a better person. Other times, we may still disagree. Even if we disagree, at least we will have a better understanding of where someone else is coming from so we can try to better explain our views. This can only happen if we are open minded and willing to be wrong.
The fault of not being open minded may lead us to misinterpret what someone else means. We also make straw-man arguments because we are not truly hearing what the other person has to say. A straw-man argument is where we misrepresent what someone else has to say in order to help our own viewpoint. As a leader, we should pursue the truth. The only way we can truly grasp what someone else has to say or their point of view is to remain open minded. Being open minded does not mean we have to comply with an opposing view; however, it does mean to listen objectively.
3. Dedicate Time
Have you ever heard someone tell you, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the time for this” or “I’m too busy right now”? You likely have. The inability for leaders to dedicate time to listen to other people will result in an inability for communication channels to work properly. If someone has an idea, concern, problem, solution, or any other reason for talking to you, it is important to remove the distractions in our minds and focus on what the person attempting to get our attention is trying to tell us. If we ignore them or listen halfheartedly, we will not be able to grasp the message as well as we should. Life can be busy, but the best leaders will find the time to always hear their team members out.
If you don’t have time to listen to someone because you are a busy person in a specific moment, a good strategy is to be upfront about it while planning a time to listen to them. Say, “What is the topic you would like to discuss? I don’t have the time for a full discussion right now; however, can we talk about that tomorrow at 10:00 am?” This way, you are establishing that you are currently unable to listen with 100% focus due to a time barrier. Instead of just rushing out or brushing off the communicator, try to acknowledge what the general topic the communicator wants to discuss with you is and then create time in your schedule to hear them out completely. After making this statement, follow through on the promise and be proactive about listening when the time is not so constrained.
As a leader, we need to prioritize our team members and allow them to express themselves. Although we may have difficulty with busy schedules, we should show our team members that their thoughts matter and dedicate time to hear them out.
4. Overcome Barriers of Listening
There are two kinds of barriers we will discuss when listening: internal and external. Interior noise involves our comfort level physically. For example, if I am hungry, tired, sore, etc… those factors will play into my ability to listen effectively. At a school, everyone knows that the first period class tends to struggle to pay attention. Many students have told me this is true. Is it because the students don’t want to listen? For some students that might be the case; however, most students may want to learn but struggle to overcome the internal noise of being tired. This makes listening or grasping the message harder. As a result, they may not understand the lesson content due to the inability to overcome an internal noise factor.
External noise relates to the environment in which we are communicating in. If we are talking near a construction site, the smoke alarm is beeping, music is blaring, or other people in the room are talking loudly, we might be unable to comprehend the message because we are having a difficult time actually hearing or focusing on the communicator. Additionally, even sunlight can be an example of external noise. Have you ever been outside while someone is talking to you, but the sun is shining right into your eyes? Although you may still be doing your best to listen, the fact that the sun is in your eyes makes listening harder.
As a listener, we need to be aware of the various listening barriers so that we can avoid falling victim to them. By taking care of our body and finding an environment that has no or hardly any external noise, we can have a better chance at comprehending the message. As a communicator, we need to be aware of this so that those listening to us can grasp our message.
5. Repeat what has been said or ask clarifying questions
The last tip on listening relates more to the actual comprehension of what was said. After the communicator is finished, ask questions to clarify information. If something wasn’t clear or you don’t understand something, ask it. It is better to ask a question for clarification than to assume something incorrectly. Additionally, do not be afraid of asking a “stupid” question as it is much better to ask a stupid question than to do something stupid due to a miscommunication.
Finally, when you have heard everything and have your ambiguity cleared up, repeat what has been said. This is the absolute best way to let the communicator know that you listened to them. Many leaders and communicators believe that if I tell you what to do, that is enough. Go and do it. However, we want to make sure that there wasn’t any confusion or misunderstanding. Repeating what has been said or stating a summary of the key points will confirm what the communicator said and will result in a more accurate comprehension of the message going forward. This is essentially providing the communicator with feedback that you “got” his/her message.
Hopefully, these tips help. They are quite simple, yet, are so important for anyone and especially leaders. The best leaders can listen to the opposition, their team members, and anyone else in order to grasp the message. The more we listen, the more information we obtain. With more information, we can make the best decisions to bring our team closer to accomplishing our goals and vision.