While there are many skills required to be a successful business leader, listening is arguably the most important. Too often, people mistakenly believe that being a leader means being the “commander” who is giving direction and telling, telling, telling. While certainly providing vision and direction is a key to leading, it isn’t always the “telling” of that direction that is most important. The best leaders I’ve had the opportunity to work with are great listeners and serve as the foundation for their teams, including setting and communicating direction.
It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I’m a good at listening.” But the reality is that in our world of constant distractions and our attempts to multi-task, listening is a skill that is fading, not improving. We often “hear” without truly listening. Listening has so many benefits. It is a display of respect and we are often more open to learning when we listen. Our ideas can be improved upon with the input of others. As leaders, we make better decisions with comprehensive input. That input often comes from others by listening to their viewpoints, even if contrary to our perspective. Active listening requires concentration and involves all five senses. It requires practice to improve.
This year, I am focusing on three steps to improve my active listening. As a career and financial planner, I’ve taken training and worked on improving these skills, but I would like to take it up a level. The three steps are:
1. Create a cue – I’m practicing what I preach. Cues are used to remind you of behavior you either want to stop or want to use. I encourage my clients to create cues that are meaningful to them and that remind them of how they want to act. I’m going to use the visual cue below, an ear with the word “listen,” underneath, to print and keep in my notebooks.
2. Limit note taking to improve eye contact – I sometimes find myself writing down too many words and focus on getting it all down. While this may seem like I’m listening, I may be missing the tone, the loudness, and any non-verbal signals the speaker is communicating because my nose is buried in my notebook. I plan to write down only key words so that I can maintain better eye contact during the discussion or conversation.
3. Focus on non-verbal communication – with better eye contact, I can tune into the non-verbal signals. While I do this today, I want to get better at it. You are more likely to get the “truth” if you are tuned into what others are communicating and asking good questions in response.