“I would knock on his door and ask if he had a moment to talk. He’d set aside what he was doing, sit back, and give me his full attention. He was a busy man, but he made me feel there was nothing more important than what I had to say,” Andres reminisced.
“Were you his protégé?” I asked.
“No, he treated everyone like that.”
We were talking about Andres’ best boss.
Andres had thought he was following in the steps of his role model, and was quite surprised and disappointed when he got dinged for “listening” on his 360 assessment.
But Andres is not alone. Research shows that most people think they are good listeners – much better than their colleagues – but are not nearly as good as they think they are.
There is a strong correlation between good leadership and listening.
Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of the greatest presidents was noted for his listening. Journalist Francis Fisher Browne observed each visitor was greeted with an encouraging nod and smile…. the President listening with the most respectful and patient attention.
Simply put by Richard Branson, “To be a great leader you have to be a great listener.”
Four Good Reasons to Be a Good Listener
- Your leadership will be appreciated.
- People are more motivated to share their thinking and make a contribution.
- You might learn something important you didn’t know.
- It’s the right thing to do – to recognize that each person is a human being who deserves the respect of being seen.
Learning the skills of active listening is helpful. But if you want to be a great listener, it’s not enough. You need to assume a listening attitude – listening with the intent to hear and understand, not simply to prove to the person speaking that you are listening.
Relying solely on the techniques of active listening amounts to no more than a theatrical production and ultimately comes across as not authentic.
If you want to assume a listening attitude, here are five things you can do that will help.
1. Give your undivided attention.
Don’t multi-task. Close your laptop, put away your phone, set aside your work.
You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time. ~ M. Scott Peck
2. Listen with your body.
Benjamin Perley Poore wrote about Abraham Lincoln: His favorite attitude when listening – and he was a good listener – was to lean forward and clasp his left knee with both hands.
3. Have patience with pauses.
Don’t assume you know what someone is going to tell you. Don’t assume you understand what they are saying.
Don’t interrupt or finish someone’s sentence, even if they pause. Let them find their own words.
4. Don’t start thinking of your response while you’re listening.
Pause before you respond, and have faith that your best response will arise after they finish speaking.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. ~ Stephen R. Covey
5. Listen with curiosity.
“Abraham Lincoln was as curious as he was attentive,” according to Historian Allan Nevins.
“Listening is not merely “not talking”; it means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us.” – Alice Miller
Listen with curiosity is the home run point Jesse! Great expression of the mindset and action.
Thanks, Kate. Action without the mindset doesn’t get us where we want to go.
Good point, Kate. I think curiosity overrides judging.
Very very good
Thank you, Matt.
Thanks for the wonderful crisp blog..IMO, to be a good listener, a realization is a must that, each person has the potential to add value, at times greater than that of the listener, on the given topic. As I experience it, internal calmness is a critical precursor to good listening.
Interesting thought about the role of internal calmness. It makes sense, because being truly present with another person means you need to calm your own internal dialogue.
Listening Attitude cannot be assumed,it is in built and very few people use it.Secondly I don’t believe in great leaders but I would call effective leaders.I have seen on roads political leaders shouting senselessly.And they never use listening ability and take people,situations as granted
Anuarg saxena -India
Sadly, I have to agree with you about most political leaders. But we can draw on the examples of political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln who were known for their listening.
Wow, powerful. I need to make some changes!
Good on you! It takes a lot of courage to take a good look in the mirror.
Excellent advice, especially the one about not thinking about your response while listening. Suspend thinking, and everything else, and just pay attention to all that is being said and expressed both verbally and non-verbally, 110%, being fully present in that moment and that will make a BIG difference. Thanks so much for sharing these five cues for being a high level listener.
This is where the current interest in mindfulness will pay off. Thanks for your thoughts. Love the term “high level listener”
This is very good info. However, it must also be said that being able to listen is not something you can force yourself to do. It’s sort of like telling someone after they’ve had a big meal that they need to be hungry or telling your hard drive to make more room when we’ve already filled it up with other info that we don’t feel we can delete.
There are often much deeper things going on, such as a fear response that causes secondary and tertiary reactions. These cause us to build walls and window-less fortresses around ourselves that prevent information from coming in. Anger, pride, arrogance, defensiveness, etc., can be caused by not being able to feel safe, and sometimes those are the personalities that show up in leadership because on the outside, they have the appearance of looking powerful and in control.
I agree you can’t force yourself to want to listen. But if you do want to, you can begin to look at the barriers you describe so well, and begin the most important journey one can take. Thanks for deepening the discussion, Adam!
A very comprehensive, deep dive into what listening truly means, and how to be a full mind/body listener, Jesse. I love what you’ve done here. I’m on an awareness/presence kick these days, and so I’d like to add this tweak: be a listener who suspends judgment. Be open, notice if judging and evaluating creeps in, allow it to be, and then let it go if you can – at least until the conversation is over.
“Suspend judgment” – an excellent addition. So important. Thanks, Lowell!
I like this post, Jesse. I would say the most mature, the wisest people, whether leaders or not, are great listeners as your describe them. This post applies to all of life’s relationships.
As in most areas of leadership wisdom – it extends to all aspects of our lives. Thanks for pointing that out, Marye Gail.
Fabulous article on the importance of listening Jesse! These practices will definitely make a huge difference in a leader’s effectiveness. In my coaching practice, I push myself to not formulate the next question until silence. Therefore I make every effort to focus on what is being said. Once there is silence, then I can think about what was said, and formulate the next appropriate question.
Thanks for all your great work in advancing effective leadership!
Trusting that the best response will arise in the silence is crucial. Much appreciation for your testament that it works. Thanks, Mark!
Great points, Jesse.
So many leaders and managers today feel they must constantly multitask. Something I learned early in my career – I rearranged my computer and phone, so neither was in direct sight when I was discussing something with one of my staff. It made a difference with engagement for sure.
Great suggestion to put the distractors out of sight. Not only does it help you resist the temptation, but it gives a message to the person you’re talking with.
Beautiful and crisp blog post, Jesse! Thank you for summarizing the need for leaders to be good (and active) listeners.
I was fortunate to attend a session by Marshall Goldsmith a few years ago when he was in Chennai (India). The objective of the 4-hour workshop was to be able to listen to someone actively without judgement. One of the key aspects was for us not to use the words “but” or “However” after someone talked. He felt that doing that negated the words of the speaker in an instant – in other words, we were trying to make our presence felt.
I thought I would be good at it. The penalty associated with using the words was Rupees 50 (approximately over 80 Cents) each time with the total amount going to charity. By the end of the session, the collection was Rs. 12,000 with my contribution being Rs. 200 ($3.20) and hold your breath, Marshall himself putting $200 in the kitty (he put $50 for each time he used those words). That just showed me where I stood with my listening skills!
Have I improved? All I can is I have tried to do so, especially as I have become a life coach now!!
What a great lesson in how we are not nearly as good listeners as we think we are, and also, that this is an ongoing practice, not a goal we arrive at. Much thanks for your thoughts, Sudhir.
Great post!!!! The phrase, ‘Listening Attitude’, paints such a great image of what a good listener should become. Like the five suggestions and might suggest an amplification or maybe a sixth suggestion: LISTEN WITH YOUR EYES. So often when I’m speaking and another person is supposedly listening, their eyes are roaming all over, clearly not toward me. I do not / cannot believe they are listening; they give the impression at least, maybe they are indeed, they are looking for an opportunity to escape.
I’m not sure what’s appropriate: (1) Stay engaged through listening to sharing that’s confusing if not indeed misguided; (2) interrupt politely to ask for clarification; (3) interrupt to inform you are moving on because of honest other demands on your time; or (4) interrupting because of confusion – maybe accompanied by other time demands, asking for rethinking followed by an ‘executive summary’ memo on the topic.
ABSOLUTELY TRUE: Great listening –> Strong connections –> Thriving organization.
Great additions, John. Much thanks for sharing your wisdom here.
The Irish saying is, “The Good Lord gave us two ears and a mouth. We are suppose to listen twice as much as we think.” As you so aptly observed, we don’t. What I really like about this post is that you talk about the listening attitude. Listening is a skill that can be learned. But so few people don’t realize they need to tale the lessons. In fact, back in 2004 Dr.Lyman Steil wrote a great booth, Listening Leaders. He was ahead of his time. With digital devices grabbing our attention, the skill of listening with mind, heart and spirit is being lost.
Love the idea of listening with the mind, heart and spirit. Without a full-hearted listening attitude, we are likely to file the listening skills we have learned with all the other useless skills we’ve picked up over the years and don’t use.