When talking about leadership, we often make mention of highly skilled public speakers – leaders who know how to motivate and encourage teams with their powerful words. While certainly, strong public speaking skills are highly valued in any leader, listening is also an incredibly important and underrated skill for effective leadership.
You can probably think of someone you’ve worked with who never really pays attention to what you’re saying – they may appear to be listening, but often have a glazed look or appear lost in their own thoughts. A lot of people, particularly in the workplace environment, are also more interested in thinking about what they’ll say next, than paying proper attention to what’s being said by others.
It can be quite uncomfortable talking to any of these people. And particularly frustrating if the person is your boss! When faced with a manager or supervisor who doesn’t ever seem to really listen, it’s easy for employees to assume their leader simply doesn’t care. Team members can feel unheard, unsupported and unsatisfied in their jobs when working under this kind of management.
Why Listening Skills Are So Important for Managers
All managers have a responsibility to listen to their staff – to understand their individual perspective, provide support and professional development, and act as an effective link between employees and upper management.
As Taylor Berens Crouch, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology says, "if we’re trying to lead people in a direction that they want, it’s absolutely necessary that we understand people’s desires and perspectives and thoughts, and listening is necessary to get that information."
If you’re a manager or employer, you’ll find that being a good listener will turn you into a far better leader. Let’s look at how you can work to improve your listening skills and leadership style.
Be Present When Listening to Staff
You probably hear a lot of talk about “mindfulness” and “being present.” But when it comes to listening, presence really is key to mastering this skill.
To be a mindful listener, it’s important to be aware that your own thoughts have the ability to distract you from really listening. Whenever you feel your brain drifting away into your own thoughts, consciously push them away and bring your focus back to the person in front of you.
Judith Humphrey, founder premier communications firm The Humphrey Group, believes “good listeners have a physical, mental, and emotional presence, and they know how to integrate all three.”
You can take conscience steps to listen with presence by:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Turning your body and head towards the speaker
- Putting smartphones or computer screens away
- Nodding your head while listening
- Avoiding crossing your arms or forming any barriers
- Saying phrases such as “yes” and “I understand”
These steps will serve to reinforce your listening, showing staff members that you are paying attention to their words and engaging with their thoughts. Managers who learn how to listen with their whole body, giving their employees their whole attention, have far greater potential as leaders.
Connect While Listening to Your Employees
When you listen to someone speak and make the effort to connect with their feelings, you are practicing emotional listening. This ability to read nonverbal signs – through a person’s facial expressions, tone of voice and posture – is also connected to greater emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a very valuable trait for managers, allowing them to better handle conflict, perform well under pressure, and lead and manage teams. EQ is also very highly regarded in today’s workforce, with studies showing that 90% of top performers have high EQs.
Emotionally intelligent individuals can also expect to earn more, possessing attractive skills for employers in any industry, such as calmness, clarity of mind and the ability to conduct more satisfying relationships. These are all very positive traits for those in a leadership position.
The Benefits of Being a Leader Who Listens
Practicing mindful and emotional listening, while connecting with your team members and putting aside your own emotions to feel theirs, will make you a more effective and appreciated leader. This will have great benefits not only for the employees who report directly to you, but also for your organization as a whole.
As Humphrey suggests, “the raw material that you and your company need to move forward together lies in the hearts and minds of those around you.” Strong leaders are able to successfully draw that raw material from their employees, for the greater good of the organization.
So start improving your listening skills today. By listening – really listening – to your employees properly, you’ll make each person in your team feel more valued and connected. You’ll also be working to improve creative and collaboration processes, enhance work relationships and contribute to a more positive work culture.