“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
Effective leaders are good listeners. While some employees may be reluctant to speak up on issues until they can get a sense of how their boss might react, most leaders know that they will learn more by not being the first to speak in a meeting. As someone once told me, ‘you have to understand to be understood.’
Managers might think that merely because of their position, they need to lead by giving their sage advice. Or you want quick answers and use meetings as a vehicle for pushing your agenda.
By listening, you will learn about things that you couldn’t know. Front line workers have a unique perspective. Plus, by engaging your staff in an open discussion, you will get more buy-in on the outcome of the discussion.
A 2007 study published by the Journal of Business Communications showed that good listeners tend to hold higher-level positions and are promoted more often than those with less refined listening skills.
A meeting is not the place for you to show off how much you know. You are not always right, and it is OK to humble yourself by actively seeking the input of others.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t contribute to the discussion. Of course, you need to participate, but make sure that others have had a chance to offer their thoughts. Not only will you learn from others, but you might also find that your original thoughts are changed by what you have heard. A good listener ‘listens’ and doesn’t just sit silently.
You should also feel comfortable in asking more questions. If you are thinking about what you want to say instead of listening, you are not learning. When a person offers an idea that you do not understand, probe further. Everyone likes to feel like their ideas are significant enough that someone is paying attention to them.
Other ways you can be a better listener include turning off your cell phone and other buzzing, ringing devices. Watch your body language. Do you look engaged, or are you signaling that you are bored by your facial expressions? Make sure you are looking at the speaker rather than your iPhone. Psychologist Jerome Burner of New York University says that people only remember 10 percent of what they hear, but the percentage is as high as 80 percent if they can see the listener as well. Your facial expression should indicate that you are listening.
Another important tool that I have found helps me with my listening skills is to take notes. My mind might wander if I’m not writing down the key points of a meeting. I don’t try to transcribe what is being said; instead, I write down key points and essential quotes I want to remember. I will write more about the power of note-taking in the future, but if you practice this technique faithfully, it will help you remember and signal to others in the meeting that you are fully engaged.
At the end of a meeting, I like to summarize what I have heard. It not only shows that you have been listening, but others can see how their views are incorporated into your thinking and future actions.