Listening Is the Key to Effective Communication

When people are asked to describe the key characteristics of a great leader, “being a good listener” is always one of the first mentioned. Why? Because people want to know their manager cares about what they think—and they want to feel heard. Excellent communication skills are essential for every manager.  

Management takes place mostly through conversations. The challenge for many managers is that they don’t understand the importance of listening. Instead of focusing on what someone else has to say, they are waiting to talk. They feel they have to prove themselves and have all the answers.

What’s the difference between a good listener and a poor one? Good listeners sort by others—they focus on the other person and what that person is saying. If you say “It’s a beautiful day!” the response from a good listener is apt to be “How does that make you feel?” On the other hand, bad listeners sort by self—they focus on themselves and what they are going to say next. Their response to your comment about it being a beautiful day will take the discussion in a self-oriented direction, such as: “You call this beautiful? You should’ve seen where I was last week!”

Good listeners make you feel good because they are interested in you and what you are thinking and feeling. If your team members believe you are a great listener who is interested in their ideas, will they share their best thinking with you? You’d better believe it!

To improve your listening skills during one-on-one conversations, try these tips:

  • Remember this phrase: Listen with the intent of understanding and being influenced by the other person.
  • Do your best to eliminate distractions. Close your office door and put away your phone.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get the other person talking and to gain clarity.
  • Resist the temptation to jump in during silent moments—especially if you are an extrovert. Sometimes people need time to formulate their thoughts.
  • Acknowledge any emotions the other person is expressing and reflect their feelings back to them to demonstrate you understand and empathize.
  • My son, Scott, says “Listen more than you talk. Listen more than is comfortable. Listen more than you already do.”

Trusting relationships with team members are essential for effective leadership. And good communication skills are necessary to build, sustain, and retain those relationships. Leaders who talk more than they listen may soon have no one left to talk to.

“Since We Were Given Two Ears and One Mouth, We Should Listen More than We Speak” is Simple Truth #43 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my new book with Randy Conley. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a preview!

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