4 Steps For Improved Listening and Leadership

Skilled leaders excel at communication. But many of us forget that the word "communicate" involves both talking and listening. We are so focused on ways for making ourselves heard that we forget that it is equally important to hear others.

By listening and asking the right questions, you can help other team members work through conflict, uncover the root causes of bad attitude, even express difficult criticism that might be vital to forward progress. When addressing a topic that is complex, emotional, or controversial with a colleague or even a client, use these deep listening steps in order:

  1. First, maintain eye contact, hear the tone of voice, the words being used by the speaker, and observe the body language the person uses while speaking. Notice whether words, tone of voice, and the facial expressions are aligned. When these things are not aligned, the person is experiencing internal conflict with the issue being discussed.
  2. Next, ask two or three nonjudgmental questions. This could sound like, "Hmm, that is interesting, would you tell me more? What else was happening at the time? How many people were involved? What were you feeling when that happened?" These questions show you are engaged in the conversation, and they enable you to build on what the speaker has said already. Asking questions also takes you out of being reactive or defensive.
  3. When the speaker stops talking, allow a long pause, then summarize what you have heard so far and confirm you got it right. "What I've heard you saying is . . . XYZ. Have I heard you correctly?" or "You seem to be feeling . . . have I got that right?" Include both the content and the feeling tone of what you heard. Watch for a nod indicating that you heard correctly. Let the other person jump in to add missing details. (Now the other person feels heard.)
  4. After doing the first three steps, share your own thinking, observations, insights, and suggestions. Make your proposal, ask for what you want, or share what you are doing. Take advantage of the opportunity to address misunderstandings or explain more clearly the reasoning behind a new direction or policy.

Master these 4 steps so they are automatic, and they will then be there when you sense conflict and need to find resolutions. Use these steps whenever someone shares something that involves vulnerability, emotion, or controversy, so you can avoid reacting defensively and instead allow others to feel listened to. That, more than anything, is what most employees really want.