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10 Practical Ways to Improve Your Listening as a Leader

By Perry Holley | June 8, 2022
10 Practical Ways to Improve Your Listening as a Leader

Have you ever encountered someone in a leadership role who always seems to have the answers but doesn’t take the time to listen to others? What kind of results do they get from their team? The ability to listen is a skill that sets leaders apart. Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden believed that an effective leader starts with being a great listener, saying “The most productive leaders are usually consistently willing to listen and learn.” 

As you focus on your leadership development and effective communication skills, here are 10 practical tips you can start applying today to help you improve not only your listening skills, but also how well you lead others.

A Practical Guide to Better Listening and Better Leading

#1 – W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Talking?)

This is a short reminder you can write on your notepad or keep nearby during meetings to remind yourself that if you are talking, you’re not listening.  

#2 – Pay rapt attention.

Don’t simply give others your attention; give them rapt attention. Synonyms like spellbound, entranced, enthralled, and engrossed can help us get a better understanding of the significance of the word “rapt.” Rapt attention communicates that you are incredibly interested or fascinated with what someone else is saying. 

#3 – Develop a mind like water.

This phrase is often attributed to martial artist and movie icon Bruce Lee. It simply means to listen with a clear head that enables you to create and respond freely. When listening, become free from all that is trying to steal your mind away from what is being communicated in the moment. 

#4 – Listen to understand, not to respond.

This is a lesson from Stephen Covey in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We are all tempted to be thinking of our next words, not the words that are being spoken to us.  

#5 -– Dare to be dumb.

It is tempting to show others what we know when they are telling us something. Instead, dare to be dumb. While listening to someone, consider the best question you could ask about what they are telling you. You might learn something new. 

#6 – Master the pause.

Let others finish their thought, not just their words. Instead of waiting for the person speaking to take a breath so you can start talking, master the pause and stay silent a little longer. In almost every case, the person speaking will continue their thought. 

#7 – “Tell me more.”

Encourage the speaker to continue beyond the pause by inviting them to tell you more. This strategy alone will position you as one of the best communicators they have ever encountered. It’s rare that others invited us to keep talking! Here are a few additional questions you can use to encourage others to continue: What happened next? What else did you do? What do you think the next step should be?

#8 – Be teachable.

Teachable people have a level of humility that communicates that they see value in everyone and that they can learn from everyone. Having a teachable spirit—and one of curiosity—increases your ability and desire to listen genuinely. It also increases your influence with others. 

#9 – Pay attention to your nonverbals.

Whether you’re aware of it, you are always making people feel something. Your nonverbals communicate a great deal when it comes to communicating effectively. Pay attention to what your face, your eyes, your gestures, and your posture are communicating. Intentionally communicate that you are interested in what is being said not just through your silence and questions, but also through your nonverbals. 

#10 – Be here now.

Be present, both physically and emotionally. There is no lack of things to distract you from what is being said in the moment. So, you may have to make a conscious effort to put your phone away and not look at your watch when it fibrates to stay focused and attentive. 

It’s often said that the number one way of showing you value someone is to listen to them. You are giving them the gift of your time, and that cannot be recovered. As Coach Wooden liked to say, “When you’re through learning, you’re through. And when you’re through listening, you’re through learning.” 

About Perry Holley

Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with Maxwell Leadership, as well as a published author. As co-host of the Maxwell Leadership Executive Leadership Podcast, he has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.

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Looking for more ways to develop as a leader or develop the leaders in your organization?

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