“The most basic of human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

These are the words of scholar Ralph Nichols, knows as the “Father of Listening” and author or co-author of more than 30 publications, including the book Are You Listening?

As managers, we are geared to be problem solvers and solution finders. But what if your employee doesn’t want or need a solution? Sometimes, all they need is a sounding board. And being an effective listener is the key to leadership success. Leaders who excel at listening succeed in building trustworthy relationships that are transparent and foster long-term loyalty.

Effective Forms of Listening

Active listening requires more than just being quiet and giving someone your full attention. You must be aware of body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, mood and other natural behavior tendencies.

Here are some tips to get you started on successful listening:

  • Show you care. Don’t view your employees only as resources for your own success – but as individuals who bring unique capabilities and circumstances, not limited solely to their jobs. People need leaders who care about their overall well-being. This extends beyond work to taking an interest in their personal opinions, concerns, needs and priorities.
  • Be empathetic. Listen with empathy and no agenda. This allows your employees to let their guard down. Don’t expect people to check their feelings at the door. Be aware of any stresses or pressures they may be dealing with, on any given day. Expressing sentiment will strengthen, versus weaken you as a leader. The best leaders make themselves approachable to those who need their attention.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings. Actively listen, beyond verbal communication. Tune into the dynamics taking place around you. Don’t just simply hear conversations; sit back and listen; then engage in the dialogue. As a leader, everyone is watching your every move. If you appear disconnected, you will be perceived as disinterested. And the old adage is true: Perception is
  • Don’t interrupt. Embrace two-way communication. Never interrupt the flow of dialogue. With every interruption comes disengagement. Earn respect by being a patient listener.
  • Eliminate distractions. Be mentally in a space where you can listen. During a conversation with an employee, don’t answer emails, scroll through Facebook, text or edit a spreadsheet. Close the door if necessary and avoid answering the phone.

An excellent resource for additional tips is the American Listening Association.

Do you need to build listening and other leadership skills among your workforce? Turn to the experts at StaffMasters as you develop your hiring, training and development strategies. Read our related posts or contact us today to learn more.


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