Leverage Your Listening Skills – To Lead

Some of the finest business leaders I have had the privilege of meeting, had one thing in common-  they were all, good listeners! Listening is truly an Art!  We all hear, but very few of us, listen!

Very few people realize the power of listening and what it can do to their careers!  The relationships you build, just by listening with empathy, can power you to new heights in your career.  Think about it, if relationships were not important, how many of us would be on LinkedIn?  Would platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook even exist?  So much so, that no serious professional in today’s business world can afford to ignore the power of listening, if he or she wants to really progress in his or her career.

Leaders in particular, are known by their ability to influence people. For a leader to influence people, at the very least he or she needs to be an active listener to really understand and motivate people.

How often have you cut into what someone was telling you, to complete whatever you thought he or she was saying or to simply change the subject? Most of us do it, quite often.

Many a time, we do it without even realizing how it affects the other person.

Sometime you assume that there is a hidden agenda behind a conversation and get wary while a conversation is underway, trying to figure out what the real agenda is. In doing so, you end up losing the chance to understand another person’s perspective and perhaps build a meaningful relationship.

Businesses, operate on the principle of continuity.

By being transactional in our approach while interacting with people whether it is for business or otherwise, we vitiate this very premise. After all, if you treat any interaction with another person purely as a one-time endeavor to get something, very little will actually come out of it.

Many of us think we are good conversationalists and also good listeners.  But, are you really a good listener?  The set of questions below, will help you find out.

(A)  Checklist

  1. Do you often interrupt people in the middle of a sentence?
  2. Do you frequently complete sentences for people without waiting for them to say it?
  3. Do you rarely maintain eye contact with people you speak to?
  4. Do you find it difficult to allow equal opportunities for other people to share their thoughts and opinions in a conversation with you?
  5. Do you tend to dominate conversations you are a part of and not let other people speak?
  6. Is your politeness, purely driven by the level of people you are speaking to? For instance, are you very polite when speaking to your seniors at work and impolite to people who report to you?
  7. Do you lose your temper frequently and then regret what you said in the heat of the moment?
  8. Do you tend to think of how you will respond to what someone is telling you before listening to what they have to say completely?
  9. Do you make people uneasy in conversations because of your body language or mannerisms?
  10. Do you find it difficult to establish meaningful relationships that endure the test of time?
  11. Do you jump to conclusions, prematurely?
  12. Do you tend to judge people and form opinions quickly before considering all the facts?

If you have answered a ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, you could benefit significantly, from improving your listening skills.

(B)  So, Why Is It So Important To Listen Carefully?

In today’s business world, knowledge is power and relationships can be a powerful enabler in getting things done.  Listening, enables you to leverage both these factors, at the same time. Leaders know this and use it all the time. 

When you take the trouble of listening to people, you do two things. First, you pay the person a complement by your very act of listening, by demonstrating that you are interested in what he or she, has to say.

Second, you understand that person a little better. You get to know what motivates the other person, what is important to them and how you could establish a meaningful relationship, over time.

But, listening alone will not do.  And, this is where, ‘active listening’ comes in.

(C)  How Different Is Active Listening From Just Listening?

Active listening refers to engaging all the senses in a conversation in a way that you not only hear what the other person says but also assimilate visual cues provided by the speaker’s body language.

But, active listening does not stop here. You take the next step and indicate your interest by nodding and maintaining eye contact. Then you go a step further and give a feedback to the person you are talking to, on what you have understood from the conversation. This allows the person interacting with you to understand that you are not only very interested in what he or she is saying but have also understood the essence of it, completely.

(D)  So, How Do You Listen, Actively?

1.  Let The Other Person Finish Speaking First

If you are in a hurry to interrupt a conversation at the first available opportunity, then you are not listening actively. Try and let the other person finish what he or she has to say. Sometimes you may need to close a conversation as the time you set for the meeting has elapsed. In such cases, do it with some sensitivity.

2.  Maintain Eye Contact

Eye contact, is one of the most powerful forms of non verbal communication. It forms a very important part of our body language which we all subconsciously interpret, without even knowing that we are doing it.

The eyes, along with the eyebrows, eyelids and the size of the pupils, convey our innermost feelings. If you look at the person who is talking to you it not only suggest to the speaker that you are paying attention and are interested, but also allows you to understand in totality, what the other person is really saying.

3.  Try Mirroring

Barack Obama And Mitt Romney- Observe The Mirroring

Mirroring is a powerful body language tool that people use deliberately or sometimes, unknowingly, to create a connection with the person they are in conversation with. Simply put, it involves adopting a body posture similar to the speaker and changing the body posture as and when the speaker changes his or her posture. Suppose, the person you are in conversation with one-on-one, crosses his leg, you do the same without making it too obvious. If the other person leans forward, you follow suit.

What it does is– it provides a sense of comfort to the person who is speaking to you and creates a connection between two people that makes conversation easier and more open, than it would be otherwise. You also tend to increase the chances of a favorable outcome, when you mirror the person you are speaking to.

4.  Recapitulate What You Hear, From Time To Time

I was once in a negotiation with a public sector client with whom we had a dispute.  At stake, was a sizable sum of money!  The client had taken a hard stance and the dispute was heading into arbitration, from where it would have become a legal matter.

With a series of meetings over seven months, I managed to resolve the dispute and arrive at a no-fault settlement.  What I did, was to just listen to the client and politely summarize what I had understood from time to time.  Over time, with just that, I managed to demonstrate to the client that what we were saying and what they were saying was not very much different and that we could resolve our differences amicably.

When you are in conversation with someone and put the essence of what you have heard into a summary and repeat it to him or her, it can reaffirm the fact that you are a good listener and that you have understood all that was said, completely.  Try doing it in a business meeting with your client or colleagues and see what the result is. I can assure you, it will come as a pleasant surprise to you.

5.  Maintain A Positive Expression

A smile is a curve that sets everything, straight. – Phyllis Diller

When you smile from time to time, it makes your expression very pleasant and puts the other person at ease. If you are in a meeting and sitting with a perpetual frown on your face, your arms crossed in front of you and not maintaining eye contact, how do you expect the meeting to go well?

Also, if you are in a position of authority and keep frowning, it can be very intimidating for your subordinates to even approach you, leave alone have a conversation with you.

6.  Watch Out For Your Body Language

Almost 80 percent of all communication, is non verbal. It’s no wonder body language is so important!

Some years ago, I was interviewing a candidate along with my senior. The candidate answered all the questions perfectly. However, his body language was at constant variance with what he spoke. After the interview I conferred with my senior and suggested that we shouldn’t hire the candidate.

My senior was not convinced and decided to go ahead and make an offer. The candidate promptly accepted the offer and sought additional time to join. After several extensions, we found out that he had taken our offer to his employer who was transferring him to another city, and negotiated to continue in his current location.

A basic understanding of body language is a must for everyone. Some body postures are counter-intuitive when it comes to building a rapport with another person, particularly in a face-to-face interaction. For instance, looking away constantly while in conversation or in a meeting, signifies disinterest. Similarly, unless you are feeling cold, arms crossed in front of the chest suggests a lack of openness and indicates to that you may not be open to considering views that don’t conform to your own.

An awareness of your body language could help you send the right message to people you talk to and vice versa and also put them at ease to make the conversation really meaningful!

Try focusing on your listening skills, you could surprise yourself with the kind of relationships you build, leadership qualities you develop and the results you get in your Career!


About the Author:

Srinivasan is an independent consultant working in the area of strategy and technology interventions in the public sector domain. He has worked in companies like IBM and TCS and has over 30 years of experience spanning 24 countries.

Srinivasan R

Management Consultant at Independent Consultant