Listening as a Leader: 5 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

Think about the people in your life that you trust when you have something important to say. What makes them better listeners than others, and why do you feel valued and heard when speaking to them? Well, active listening goes far beyond a few head nods and uh-huhs. In fact, it’s a skill that we can all develop, and as a leader, it needs to be at the top of your toolbox.

Effective listening as a leader will give your employees the confidence to speak up and will help you read between the lines and hear what they actually want to say. So, to help you improve as a listener, we’re going to cover five straightforward tips to enhance your skills. But first, let’s talk about some important data points and factors that hinder us as listeners.

Data on Talking and Listening

Our brains are incredible. They’re capable of processing a great deal of information. In fact, the listener has an advantage over the speaker when we compare the rates between speaking and comprehending. However, poor listening puts us at great risk of misunderstanding the message.

Here are some fascinating data points to keep in mind:

  1. People speak at a rate of 125-150 words per minute.
  2. People can listen at a rate of 300-400 words per minute.
  3. 60% of misunderstandings can be traced to poor listening and only 1% to written communications.

Factors that Hurt Our Listening

We are our own worst enemies when listening to others. If we’re not careful and fail to check our opinions or let our emotional states become barriers between us and the speaker, we’re not going to give the conversation the attention it deserves. 

So, when you’re listening as a leader, be mindful of these troublesome factors:

  • Judgments
  • Biases
  • Failure to seek clarification 
  • Being detached
  • Moods and emotions 

Five Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

In the world of leadership coaching, we have a concept called holding the space. What that means is that as a listener, you are being mindful and present and showing the speaker that you are here and you are listening to them. Holding the space creates an environment of respect, support, and love that allows others to not just speak but to be heard–great concept, right? Well, let’s look at five easy-to-implement ways to utilize this strategy.

1. Pay Attention to Subtext

We don’t just listen with our ears–nope! Reading body language and tones can sometimes tell you more about the meaning of a message than words. Without knowing it, people give off non-verbal cues through gestures, facial expressions, and the intonation of their voices. When it comes to listening as a leader, paying attention to these signals will help you see beyond the surface and understand what someone is really trying to say.

2. Be Aware of the Misalignment between Body language, Tone, and Words

But hold on a second. Should you place more value on words or body language and tone? Often there is a misalignment between the obvious and the unobvious. A person’s body language and tone tend to be more honest than the words someone says. Of course, you have to listen to what is verbally being said, but when you notice a misalignment, put more value on these subtle cues.

3. Resist the Urge to Interrupt or Solve the Problem

Remember that we can comprehend words more than twice as fast as people normally speak. Although that may seem like an advantage for the listener, it can actually be a hindrance. Why? Because it makes us more likely to interrupt and pay less attention. As our minds wander for the next thing to say or the answers to a person’s problems, we stop holding the space and become poor listeners–that’s an issue when listening as a leader. So, resist the urge to interrupt and practice giving all your attention to the speaker. Instead of trying to solve their problems, ask questions to help the person solve them on their own. Got it?

4. Paraphrase What You’ve Heard

Not only do you need to give your full attention to ensure you are hearing what a person says, but you also need to show the speaker that you’re giving all your attention to build trust and rapport. Think about when you’re talking to someone who’s doing a simple task like wiping down the counters. Even though you know that they can hear you, it doesn’t feel like they’re truly listening, does it? So, an easy tip to show your attentiveness is to periodically paraphrase what the speaker has said. This will give you a chance to confirm and clarify their message and build that oh-so-important trust and validation.

5. Be Open and Non-Judgmental

Listening as a leader requires you to be open and to cast judgments and biases aside. We’re judgmental creatures, and that’s okay as long as you can acknowledge it and avoid closing yourself off to someone and their thoughts. Becoming less judgmental takes time and effort, but it can be done. Always challenge your beliefs and perspectives and become a learner rather than a knower.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot that goes into being a good listener. Luckily, we have an endless amount of opportunities in everyday life to practice our skills that we can later bring into the workplace. When you’re listening as a leader, your employees and clients should know that they have your undivided attention, and you can give them that by just making a few adjustments. So, implement these five easy tips during your next conversation and sharpen your abilities to hold the space.