Whether on a personal or corporate level, listening is a common denominator in leadership.
As a CEO, you lose your best employees when you are not skilled at listening.
As a teacher, you lose the prime opportunity to impact the lives of your students when you don’t pay attention to their situations.
As a Pastor, your congregation drops by in another church these days not because you aren’t anointed or that you are less anointed but because they sense that you do not give them your attention more than you give to yourself.
I could go on and on. The point is this: your influence as a leader is impacted so much by your listening skills. When leaders improve and apply their listening skills in any position of leadership, they influence the people easier, faster and stronger. This is why it is possible for a lower level leader in an organization to wield greater influence than the top level leader.
to be a better leader, you must be a better listener. the following ten principles holds the key to making you a better listener and at the same time a better leader.
# 1 – Prepare to Listen
The art of listening is a choice. We choose whether or not to listen and to what degree. How prepared we are to listen is the number one key to effective listening. As a leader, you must have and show the desire and readiness to listen to your people no matter who or what they are, and irrespective of who or what you are.
# 2 – Maintain Silence
It is true that you have a lot to say. It may even be true that the speaker is talking rubbish. But could you just exercise some courage and keep silent until the speaker is done with his/her speaking. One of the worst apologies of interruption we often make during a converstion is; “Sorry for cutting you short.” This is a wicked apology even though we rarely understand it so. Not only does such an apology demoralize the speaker, it actually in the real sense cuts him or her short. The feedback it normally gives is one that says; “Enough of that rubbish you’re talking; listen to me as I talk some sense into you.”
Making good allowance for the speaker to air his/her view is a way of creating value for yourself. The speaker can only value you and whatever you have to say because he/she feels that you value him/her and whatever he/she has to say. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
# 3 – Create a Suitable Atmosphere
It is the duty of the leader to provide an enabling environment that makes for effective communication. During communication, leaders must work at creating the kind of atmosphere that will allow their subordinates not to be under pressure. This is achievable through the attending, supporting and empathizing behaviours. You should try as much as possible to put up those behaviours and expressions that will put the speaker at ease and make him or her feel free to express his/her opinion. These behaviours could be in the form of verbal or non-verbal cues – signals that prompts and encourages the speaker to speak on confidently.
# 4 – Put Away Biases
For listening to really be as effective as it should be, leaders must refrain from the habit of “association”. That is; the constant practice of associating the speaker with certain groups or past experiences. To put away biases implies that during the listening process, we must see the speaker as a unique individual – totally unconnected with any figure or experience we might have encountered before. Irrespective of what we might have heard about certain group of people, it is always good to give them what is called “benefit of the doubt”. Give every individual you meet the opportunity to prove himself or herself. Your assumption may end up being completely wrong. A good listener must be tolerant and accommodating!
# 5 – Avoid Distractions
These distractions may be internal or external. Always ensure that there is nothing in the environment that would buy your attention over that of the speaker. If it is a radio set, TV set or phone, put it off so you can attend fully to the speaker. For internal distractions; we are most likely to be distracted by our thinking. It’s either we are absorbed with thinking something entirely different from what the speaker is saying or we are busy thinking of the reply we are going to give the speaker. We may not be able to eliminate this pattern entirely but we can minimize it to a reasonable extent.
# 6 – Focus On Main Ideas, Meanings And Key Points
Look out for meanings tucked away in the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal signals. Note the main idea and the key points the speaker is trying to communicate and use it as a parameter to evaluate the whole information you’ve received. One of the powerful statements I’ve come to appreciate when it comes to communication is the fact that meanings are not in words but in people. In essence, to extract the main ideas, meanings and key points, you need to consider the message in relation to the speaker. You must be quick to find the very points where the speaker’s spoken and unspoken words overlap. Those points embody the main ideas and the real meaning in the message.
# 7 – Ask Questions
Do not claim to have understood the speaker’s message. Avoid running into conclusions as a result of your assumptions. You must be ready to probe for true meaning or else you will end up misinterpreting and misunderstanding the speaker and his or her message. Better to get clarifications than to act on assumptions.
# 8 – Analyze Statements But Delay Judgements
You are not a robot. Hence, you don’t have to accept the speaker’s message hook, line and sinker. There is always need for analysis. Such enables you extract underlying facts in the speaker’s message. As a leader, you don’t have to accept whatever you hear at face value; it can result in making dangerous commitments.
To effectively analyze statements you must learn to listen more with your heart than you do with your head. It is with your intuitive ability that you can properly analyze within microseconds the real content of someone’s message. It’s all about training.
As much as you analyze statements, you also have to delay judgments. Never be in a hurry to conclude even when you have the facts and figures with you. Try to be diplomatic; remember it’s about relationship listening. Jumping into quick conclusions can break trust and destroy relationships.
# 9 – Put Your Listening Organs To Work
One way of becoming more effective in anything is by constant practice. The more you learn to engage your listening organs during the process of listening, the more you master the art of listening. Use your eye contact well, engage your mind and heart in both attending, empathizing and understanding the speaker’s message. Maintain good body posture. Stay alert physically, mentally, emotionally and otherwise.
# 10 – Have The Golden Rule In Mind
Always remember the “3rd greatest commandment” in the Bible; “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” In essence, if you would like people to listen while you speak, you must learn to listen while they speak. If it makes you feel bad that you were interrupted while you were expressing your opinion; if you know what it feels like to be ignored and be made to feel inferior, then you would surely mind your manner of approach towards other people’s opinion.