7 Ways To Listen More Effectively

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Winston Churchill

On Monday afternoon, I was talking to one of my team members in my office when he mentioned he had spent time over the holiday weekend working on some personal development material related to the topic of listening.  He shared with me that he believes he struggles with interrupting people and completing their statements for them.  He asked me if this was something I noticed in him.

Listening is a major habit leaders must develop if they want to take their leadership to the next level.

Here are a few reasons listening matters:

  • Listening shows others we care about them and about what they are saying.  It’s rude when we don’t give our team members our full attention when they are speaking with us.  When we stop what we are doing and pay attention, it demonstrates we value our team members.
  • Listening often provides information we need to know.  I depend on my team members to handle their projects and tasks as independently as possible; however, there are times when I need to be in the loop on key details.  If I don’t take the time to listen to my team members, I may miss out on information necessary to make sure we are making the best decisions.
  • Listening helps us understand our team members better.  We are not leading teams of robots.  We are leading individual people.  Each of them have different personalities, different strengths, different weaknesses, and different challenges.  When we listen, we are better equipped to help our individual team members.  As leaders, we are servants, and we serve best when we have taken time to listen and understand those we serve – this includes our team members.
  • Listening minimizes the opportunity for us to say something stupid.  If we are really listening, our ears are open and our mouths are closed.  When we keep our mouths shut, we can’t say something we will regret.  This doesn’t mean we should never speak up.  I simply believe it is important to develop the discipline of listening before we speak.

Why do you think listening matters?

Improving your listening skills takes practice.  Here are some practical tips for taking your listening to the next level.

7 Ways To Listen More Effectively

  1. Turn off distractions.  Put your cell phone aside.  Shut the lid on your laptop.  And put your desk phone on “do not disturb.”  We live in a world of distractions.  It takes effort and intentionality on our parts to put these aside, so our conversations are not high-jacked.
  2. Face the person who is speaking.  You are more likely to really hear what someone is saying when you see their eyes, observe their expressions, and tune in.  This cannot fully happen if you aren’t looking at the person who is talking to you.
  3. Repeat what you heard and ask for confirmation or clarification.  Sometimes we don’t hear what are people are really saying.  Briefly rehashing the conversation provides the opportunity to make sure the speaker has been heard correctly.
  4. Take notes.  I try to take notes when necessary to help me process and remember the key details of a conversation.  The notes shouldn’t be a distraction from the conversation.  You may need to take notes immediately following the conversation.  I have found this helps in my follow through with any action items that come out of a conversation.  My team members know I am listening when they see me following up on something that came up during our conversation.
  5. Try not to cross your arms (or your legs).  I have heard it said that this sends the wrong message.  Crossing your arms signals to the speaker that we may be defensive about what is being shared.  Uncrossing our arms and opening up subconsciously indicates that we are listening.
  6. Focus on the speaker.  Don’t think about your next meeting.  Don’t be too quick to think about the resolution to your team members problems.  Don’t listen to other conversations going on around you.  Be present in the conversation.  I easily fall into the trap of thinking to far down the road or even trying to be a part of more than one conversation at the same time.  This doesn’t work.  Focus on one person at a time.
  7. If necessary, ask the person for a moment to write notes on what you were doing before they came into your office.  You may be in the middle of a sentence or thought, and it’s helpful to finish it before you move into the conversation.  I listen better when I’m not distracted by what I was trying to accomplish before the conversation.

Listening matters, and it’s a discipline we must all practice especially if we want to take our leadership to the next level.

What helps you listen more effectively?