Effective Listening—An Essential Skill for Today’s Leaders

December 13, 2022 Ken Blanchard

See if this sounds familiar: You’re talking with a friend about a problem at work. Each time you begin to share a new thought, the person interrupts to tell a story of their own or say what they would do. You aren’t getting anywhere and decide to end the conversation before your frustration becomes obvious.

The only way this situation could be more troublesome would be if the person you were talking to was your boss and you had come to them for help.

Sadly, being a good listener doesn’t come naturally to many leaders. They don’t understand that effective listening is a learned skill and a powerful tool that could make a world of difference in the perception their people have not only of them as a leader but of the organization as a whole.

“Listening is one of the most underrated and unappreciated leadership skills. Many leaders don’t put any intentional effort into how they listen to their people. They just assume it happens,” says Randy Conley, trust expert and my Simple Truths of Leadership coauthor. “Being an effective listener is one of the quickest ways to build trust with your people. People trust leaders who take the time to hear their ideas and empathize with their concerns.”

“It is easy to forget that listening means you aren’t talking,” says Madeleine Homan Blanchard, our company’s chief coaching architect, in a recent blog post on how managers can develop a coaching mindset. Great point, Madeleine! She says people are looking for managers that are able “to inspire and bring out the best in their team members [and] to be better listeners and ask better questions.”

To be a truly effective listener, in a one-on-one interaction with a direct report, you should:

  • Set aside all distractions and give the person your undivided attention.
  • Listen with the intent of understanding. If unclear, paraphrase what you think you heard.
  • Don’t interrupt! Think WAIT: Why Am I Talking?
  • Listen for what’s not being said. Pay attention to the person’s face and body movements and listen to the tone of their voice.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage communication; for example, “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • Summarize the conversation by capturing the main points and reflecting the person’s conclusion so that they know you understand.

When I ask people to describe the qualities of a great leader, being a good listener is always one of the first mentioned. As a leader, when you give a person your full attention, listen to them, and ask relevant questions, they feel good because they know you are interested in what they have to say. And when your team members see you as a great listener, they will share their best thinking with you.

If you are a leader at any level, you owe it to your organization, yourself, and especially your team members to learn, practice, and master the skill of effective listening.

About the Author

Ken Blanchard

Dr. Ken Blanchard is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of Blanchard®, an international management training and consulting firm. Ken is the coauthor of The One Minute Manager, as well as 65 other books with combined sales totaling more than 21 million copies.

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