Listening is a leadership skill that’s usually not listed on a job description. But, it should be.
As a leader, listening is one of the most powerful tools you possess. It helps you build trust and form meaningful relationships. It lets others know that they are important to you and that you value what they have to say.
Listening goes beyond just words. It makes you aware of body language, facial expressions, mood, and tone. It’s a skill you’re always developing.
During an earlier job in my career, I worked with a group of women who primarily spoke Patwa, the native language of Jamaica where they were born and raised. At first, it was difficult to truly understand what they were saying since I didn’t speak the language. So, I began focusing on what their body language and facial expressions were communicating. I started noticing the ways their tones would shift- up and down, high and low.
Over time, I started picking up phrases. I knew if I heard, “A waant sinting fi nyam,” it meant that it was time for lunch. (Which was definitely my favorite time of the day, since it meant I got to go pick us up spicy shrimp rolls at the sushi restaurant down the street.)
Oftentimes, I forget that listening to someone isn’t just about the words coming out of their mouth. It’s about so much more. Now, I listen to the tone, cadence, and flow of someone’s voice. I listen to their facial expressions, their mood, their body language.
By doing so, I strengthened my empathy muscle, connecting fully with the energy or emotion behind what they were saying at any given moment.
Those women helped me become a better listener — a more attentive listener. So, embrace the art of listening. The power it holds for leaders is undeniable.
Here are five ways listening makes you a better leader:
#1: Listening shows you care
Your colleagues are valuable and bring unique sets of talents and skills to the organization, but they are people first.
Your team wants to be led by someone who genuinely cares about who they are and what they represent. Engage yourself in conversations with your team members. When they share their opinions and feelings, ask questions and encourage them to elaborate further and expand upon their perspectives.
This will show that you are listening and want to understand what is important to them. The impact it can have on your team could be long-lasting.
#2: Listening makes you more mindful
Have you ever felt like someone was so busy thinking of their response to you, that they didn’t listen to what you were saying? Have you ever been interrupted, noticed that someone was distracted while you were speaking, or felt misunderstood? The answer is probably yes. Now do you ever do this in your conversations with others? The answer is also probably… yes.
When you listen mindfully to your colleague, it can improve your understanding and empathy, and remove any roadblocks. An added bonus: they will likely listen more mindfully to you in return.
Listening may seem like something we just “do”, but it takes a lot of practice to do it mindfully. (Meaning deeply and with intention.)
Here are some tips from Kaiser Permanente that can help you practice mindful listening:
- Is your mind ready to listen? It’s easy to enter a conversation with your mind still humming about something else. To be a good listener, turn your brain away from other thoughts to focus on the present moment. If you have to take a deep breath, or pause for a moment to transition from one thought or conversation to the next, try to give yourself that time.
- Is your body ready to listen? How your body is positioned, where you keep your arms and hands, how you hold your eyes and mouth. Each is an important signal in nonverbal communication, and tells them about how closely you’re paying attention. Are your fists clenched? Are you looking at the ceiling while you formulate your next thought? Are your shoulders tensed and raised? Try to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, take steady breaths, and hold a natural, open body position. Show them you are ready to hear them.
- Check your emotional awareness. Are you open to listening without judgment or preconception? This is particularly challenging when you are having a difficult conversation, where there may be some emotional triggers that can take the conversation off track. Be aware of your emotions: notice what they are, choose to set them aside, and redirect your energy to listening deeply.
#3: Listening sets a good example
Good leadership means modeling the behaviors you want to see reflected by your team. By developing and using your listening skills, you will be helping to foster a culture of effective listening within your organization.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The world could use more Gandhi’s.
#4: Listening leads to empathy
Empathy is the ability to imagine the world from another’s point of view. Empathetic leaders listen to the people around them and discover what makes them tick, what inspires them and the way they feel. This is an underrated skill.
(Don’t just take it from us. A BetterUp study found that 86% of employees believe empathy is an important skill in the workplace.)
No one wants to work in a toxic environment where issues like decreased productivity and lack of engagement are high. Showing empathy towards your colleagues will help build trust, respect and create a positive work environment. Who wouldn’t want that? :)
Listening to your team with an empathetic ear will make them feel more comfortable communicating with you — and you’ll become a better leader because of it.
#5: Listening is the best way to learn
Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a wealth of unique and individual experiences they’re drawing from. We often know so little about our colleagues and what they’ve been through (or are currently going through.)
When we’re really listening, when we’re curious, we’re much more likely to learn from others, to uncover the hidden gems, and to think of things in ways we never thought of before.
Side note: The best way to learn a new language is to listen to someone speaking it. You’ll be able to engage on a deeper level, even if you don’t understand what’s being said. That is the true power of listening.
I could go on forever about how many ways listening has made me as a leader here at Inclusivv, but I'll save you the reading time and just stick to those five. ;)
If you're interested, Inclusivv offers opportunities to get you and your team to the table to listen to one another. Book a meeting with a team member today to chat about how we can improve your listening skills.