Evolving as a leader does not come without learning. Every leader I interview, I ask "tell me your top pieces of advice that you wish you had known earlier in your leadership journey." While each leader has unique offerings, learning how to listen has been a consistent theme across leaders and industries. Provided below are three tips to help you become a better listener and leader.
Tip 1. Don't Talk - Yes, this seems obvious, yet it is hard to do. Our active mind is constantly scanning conversations for truth, deception, trust, protection, opportunity, blame, fear, praise, etc. while our ego is urging us to say something to appear smart. The most basic challenge to become a better listener is to stop talking or interrupting. Tell your mind to slow down, breathe deeply, bite your tongue, and be sure to meditate before conversations with potential triggers. If your mind is in a calm state, you can respond instead of reacting. If you are counseling or coaching a team member, hear them out, even if it means hearing things about yourself that need to change to be a better leader. When we are truly listening, it is not about us, it is about the other person. We can learn as we listen and observe non-verbal signs of joy or unease.
Tip 2. Know When to Talk - As we learn about the other person when we listen, we are presented options once they stop talking. We can immediately respond or we can pause which shows care, thought, and respect towards the other person's feelings and emotions behind the words. We can also choose to not say a word. In times of crisis, the best thing you can do is to let the other person speak their pain and to offer a hug if they feel safe with your offering; you can also ask them if they just need you to listen or if they would like you to offer your perspective. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing, and other times, we have to offer direct advice. If there is ambiguity in the conversation, be clear in what you heard from the other person through active listening techniques by repeating their words back to them. Once both of you are clear on what has been said and what has been received in the communication flow, you can begin to have a constructive conversation towards goals, solutions, and desired outcomes. Clearing the air is key and knowing what to say or not say is critical to a safe conversation where people feel respected and heard at the end.
Tip 3. Learn How to Ask Questions - Most people did not study communications and interviewing, so this does not come naturally. This is why listening is a skill leaders must develop. Whether you are a top sales executive or reporter covering the hottest story, results and information flow when we learn how to ask questions. To do this, you need to learn some basic things about what makes people tick, who they are, how they got to where they are, what their belief system looks like, etc. While you can start at the superficial level, deep relationships are formed as you learn how to ask questions that make other people feel respected, validated, and understood. Think about the desired outcome of your question and if there is a way to learn more about the other person by asking a better question. Before a sales pitch, do your research on your client and learn about who they are so you are prepared with a few few questions beyond the product and features ramble you need to do to make that sales quota. As you learn how to ask questions, you learn how to go deeper from the what to the why to the how. You will build relationships built on trust that will carry over into your next move. Learn how to ask questions and be sure you are using your time wisely when you are with people to have meaningful conversations that are beneficial to both parties.
If listening does not come easy to you, start practicing with these tips today!