Listening, A Key Skill for Leaders

Typically, leaders are many things: assertive, passionate and conversational. They are good at taking command of the situation and directing the conversation. They are active and vocal. Though these traits are necessary and encouraged in such a position, they tend to hinder another very important ability: being a good listener.

Leaders are skilled at speaking on behalf of their teams, but such a role can cause a propensity to speak when they really need to listen. Leaders who listen will find that they are not alone in problem-solving skills and can actually increase the quality of information they receive, leading to an atmosphere of information sharing, collaboration and boosted employee performance. Here are some tips for how leaders can improve their listening.

Create Time and Space for Listening

Prioritize conversation by creating an environment that encourages your team to come forth without barriers and with the intent to connect and focus. By scheduling time in between meetings for one-on-ones, more focus can be given to the individual and his or her thoughts and questions while also providing yourself time to reflect on those conversations.

Eliminate Distractions

To take full advantage of the conversation, you should get rid of distractions so that the speaker knows that you value what they have to say. That means putting down the phone and closing the laptop or turning away from the monitor. If the speaker feels that you are not interested, they will be much less likely to come forward in the future.

Focus on Body Language and Tone

By eliminating distractions, the leader can focus on physical communication like body language and facial expressions. Non-verbal cues communicate feelings and tensions concerning the subject of the conversation; pay attention to more fully understand how the speakers feel about not only the topic at hand, but how they feel talking about it to you. Listen to their voice and watch their facial expressions. Are they passionate? Excited? Angry? And what they are not saying? Do they skip around certain topics or stutter in their speech? Use this technique to get the full picture of what the speaker is saying.

Likewise, you should focus on your body language and reactions. Maintaining eye contact ensures your focus on the speaker and expresses that focus to them.

Avoid Interruptions

Avoid interrupting the speaker with hasty reactions over what is being said. A good listener will wait until the speaker has finished expressing themselves—reserving any judgment, criticism and argument for the very end.

Ask Questions

The listener should take the time to show that they have heard and want to clarify by asking open-ended questions about what the speaker has said. Asking the right questions can lead to reflection on the speaker’s part and allow them to more fully develop their thoughts, potentially leading to solving the problem being discussed.

The act of asking questions not only promotes understanding but also expresses your interest to the speaker. Empathetic listeners show that they want to gain the speaker’s perspective by acknowledging the feelings of the speaker on the subject and offering feedback taking into account all that the speaker has said, not said, and expressed physically.


Don’t assume you know what the speaker means. Round out the conversation by paraphrasing what the speaker has said to ensure you fully understand their information and perspective; it helps to interpret the main theme of their dialog and define their major points to show you have indeed listened well (and the speaker has made themselves clear). Clarify any further actions and responsibilities, and plan to follow up later on to make sure everything from the conversation is addressed.

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