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Leaders and managers want to be heard, understood, and to be part of our communities just like anyone else. We appreciate it when people listen to our ideas and try to connect with us because it makes us feel good. That alone should be enough to motivate us to listen and try to understand others. As leaders and managers we often give ourselves too much permission to talk when we should be reminding ourselves to listen.

We always need to model the behavior we expect to see in our organizations. Given that, we have a special obligation to listen and to listen well. Here is a quick summary of the key “active listening” skills we should demonstrate in our personal and professional lives.

  • Attention/Focus. Devote your attention to the other person. Find a place that allows you to do that.
  • Interest. Take a true interest in the person and what s/he is saying. This isn’t a good time to go through the motions.
  • Take Time. Set aside time to listen instead of trying to multi-task. Schedule private appointments when necessary to ensure you have enough time.
  • Body Language. Listen to words, posture, gestures, and tone of voice. Provide plenty of eye contact and use all your senses to understand the other person.
  • Validate. Reassure the speaker that you see their point of view. Even if you don’t yet agree, it’s important you validate his or her point of view.
  • Repeat/Clarify. Repeat what you heard in your own words. “So what I hear you saying is….” is not just a cliché. It allows you to explain what you heard and allows the speaker to verify s/he got her message across.
  • Ask clarifying questions. Rather than interrogating your partner, ask her or him some clarifying questions to solidify your understanding. For example: “When you said (blank) could you clarify what you meant?” “Could you say that a different way so I make sure I understand?” “I’m not sure I understand. Could you go over (blank) again with me?”
  • Feelings. When it’s appropriate, probe for feelings. Communication is not only about what a person thinks. It’s also about how s/he feels about what s/he thinks.
  • Counter Argument. Do not waste your listening time planning what to say. Sit tight. Let the speaker finish and then interact with him or her. Save your counter arguments—if any—until you’re certain you understand the other party.

Thanks for listening. Now, what did you hear and how will you put it into action?