Great leaders are great listeners. Without listening it is not possible to learn and understand, nor can you identify threats and opportunities. Listening is required in order to make plans, engage people and get them to commit. When repeated failure happens it is because the leadership did not listen. Listening is vital for sustained success.
When you speak, actions happen. When you listen, everything else happens. This is why listening is a key part of success for everyone in all endeavors.
Here is how you become a better listener:
- Be present and attentive when you listen, not letting your thoughts wander elsewhere.
- Listen in order to genuinely understand, not to prepare an argument or response.
- Listen not just to what you want to hear, but also to what you do not want to hear. The latter is often more valuable to you.
- Listen not just to what is being said, but even more to what is not being said but could or should have been.
- Listen to how you yourself come across when you speak. Your listeners may be misunderstanding your tone and intention.
- Listen to your gut and listen to your heart. Your physical and subconscious are always trying to tell you something valuable. Slow down and listen to yourself.
When you learn to listen well, you will make better decisions and get stronger commitment from the team around you.
Let’s talk about listening. When you speak, you get actions to happen. When you listen, you get everything else to happen.
That’s why listening is vital to success for anybody in any endeavor. When you listen, you learn and you understand. When you listen you can identify threats and you can identify opportunities. You need listening in order to make plans. You need to listen in order to engage people and get them to commit to what you’re planning to do.
There are lots of problems with listening.
The first problem is: People appear to be listening but they don’t. They are thinking about something else. You have to be present in the moment and truly pay attention to listening.
Number two: Most people listen to respond, not to understand. When they listen, they’re thinking “How do I respond, how do I respond, how do I respond?” That’s not useful. You have to think “What is the other person trying to tell me, what do I need to understand? How does this work?”
The next problem is that we like to listen to stuff we would like to hear – positive news, praise of ourselves. What we need to do is listen for the stuff we didn’t want to hear, because that’s even more valuable to us.
The fourth challenge is that when you listen to a person, you must listen not only to what the person is saying, but also what the person is not saying.
Let’s take a concrete example. You are hiring people and you are checking up a reference for somebody, and you ask them about the person. In that moment, you must listen to what is not being said. That could be the clue to the real reference. Of course, listen to what the reference is saying, but also think about all the things he or she could have said but didn’t. Those mean something to you.
Those are the challenges of listening to somebody else.
Then, additionally, you must listen to yourself in two different ways.
First of all, listen to how you come across. You may think as a leader that you are firm and you are a good business person, but your team may think you’re angry. So you must listen to yourself. You may think you’re funny, and they may think you are neurotic. You may think you’re firm, and they think you’re too soft. You must listen to yourself and how you present to understand how they are seeing you.
The other half of listening to yourself is truly listening to your own body. We tend to think that the brain has all the power and the brain knows everything, but we have many other smart organs in our body. When we talk about gut feeling and listening to your heart, it really means something. As business people, we tend to suppress those things and we don’t listen carefully. If we have an important decision to make, it’s very important to listen to the inner voices we have and let them come out. We may make a different decision or not follow the signal, but we need to listen to what we are telling ourselves.
This is so important that I would claim that anybody who becomes a master at listening will always be needed in this world, and will be successful. Think about when failure happens. Every time when failure happens somebody will say, well yeah, the leader didn’t listen, or the leadership didn’t listen. So listening is absolutely vital for great success.