6 Ways to Know if a Leader is Listening

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Listening might be the most powerful leadership trait to add to your toolkit. As a leader it’s equally important to listen – and recognize whether you’re being heard.

Listening might be the most powerful leadership tr. Successful leadership requires effective communication, and having the ability to listen to everyone – regardless of their position – is a valuable skill leaders must possess.

A true leader listens actively to others and develops positive relationships so people feel comfortable speaking openly. If people know that they can confide in you, then you’re well on your way to becoming a respected leader.

Whether you’re a leader evaluating your listening skills, or you’re looking for cues to assess whether you’re being heard, here are a few signs to help.

“As you read this, consider times when you’re working with a subject matter expert to build your business. A good service provider will listen and guide you through your project based on your needs.”

#1 Listening Before Speaking

I know. It can be hard sometimes. You get excited. You want to say something sooooo badly. For leaders, it’s hard not to be too excited to jump in with your ideas and experiences.

If you’re thinking of what you’re going to say, then you’ve probably stopped listening. As a leader, that’s the opposite of what you want to do.

If you're thinking of what you're going to say, then you've probably stopped listening. #leadership #business Click To Tweet

Make a mental note of what you want to say. Then wait until the person has finished speaking.

If you don’t wait, you might not learn whether your comments are applicable to the conversation.

Person talking in a can with a string coming out the bottom
When you are full engaged in a conversation, you dramatically increase the chances that you can learn something new.

We also get excited to share our thoughts, but we might miss a great gem if we interrupt someone.

#2 Listening Before Jumping to Conclusions

I’m not discounting the importance of experience. But I will say experience isn’t everything.

“I’ve worked with leaders who are more concerned with the past than the present. That’s a perilous game. Although the past shapes the future, the past isn’t the only consideration when making complex decisions with widespread implications.”

Good leaders listen for nuance and context. Although prior experience is an important factor in weighing decisions, a good leader doesn’t jump to conclusions based on experience alone.

For example, when you’re collaborating with a service provider, alarms should be going off in your head if the person jumps to conclusions about your business based on past projects instead of evaluating how your project fits their skill set.

Alarms should be going off in your head if a tech service provider jumps to conclusions about your #business based on past projects. #listening Click To Tweet

As a leader, you need to assess weighty decisions and although it’s easier sometimes to jump to conclusions, a more effective approach is to give space (and airtime) to perspectives beyond personal previous experiences.

#3 Leaders Ask Good Questions …

One of the key ways to know if you’ve been heard is whether someone asks questions after you’ve finished talking. A leader listens to the details and the story – not just the facts.Leaders ask questions that are intended to stimulate thinking. Click To Tweet

One of the things I’m working on is solutions-based questions to support and empower clients to develop the best technology decisions for their business based on data, projections and needs. This is challenging sometimes because technology tends to overwhelm and confuse people. But if we can unpack those fears that’s when the magic happens.

Question mark written in chalk
If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say, chances are you’re not listening. Leadership means active listening and asking questions that further everyone’s knowledge is far more powerful.

A good leader knows to ask questions. A great leader asks critical questions because the answers are essential to the path ahead.

#4 … And Care About the Answers

Leaders ask meaningful questions – questions that aren’t intended to be a ‘gotcha’ or lead to one answer and one answer only. A leader cares about the answers because it will affect the trajectory of what happens next

For example, when I help a small business make technology decisions, I ask a lot of questions up front. My philosophy is that no one knows your business more than you. And, it’s my responsibility to listen to the answers so I can assess possible solutions, if I’m the best provider, and whether the answers are conflicting or confusing. If I don’t listen to what a customer needs I have no idea how (or if) I can help.

“Unless you’re a professional gunslinger, it behooves a you to ask a lot of questions AND carefully consider the answers. ”

#5 Leaders Avoid Premature Judgement

Technology is like taxes. When it’s working, it’s just like getting a big tax refund. When it’s not working, it’s like getting audited. Technology also creates the same levels of anxiety, stress, and general grumpiness found during tax season.

That’s why I’m always seeking out the issues behind the emotions. There’s what someone says and how they say it.

Sometimes it’s so easy to say that the person is wrong based on how the information is delivered. Solely focusing on emotions might mean missing the problem altogether.

For example, when my husband throws up his hands and grumbles, “my computer is broken”, it could mean any of the following: I’m not getting any email, I can’t open my browser, or I threw my laptop through a plate-glass window and it literally broke in half. (OK, so the last one has never happened, but the way he says it makes me think it’s possible that it could have happened.)

It became easier to fix his computer when I realized he was upset with the computer, not me.

Stress and circumstance matter. 

A leader with active listening skills considers the feeling, motivation and context behind what has been said before making a judgment. It’s amazing to work with a leader who listens, then peels away the emotion without judgement to address the root problem.

Stressed out woman with her fingers on her temples
Context matters. Context can cause stress, or even bad behavior. Leaders ask questions and listen for context to help resolve issues.

Stress and circumstance matter. Leaders reserve judgement until context is understood.

Click to Tweet: Leaders contextualize information before making judgements. #leadership via @fostergrowthpdx

#6 Leaders Focus on the Speaker

Put down your cell phone.

Back away from your tablet or computer.

Focus on the person speaking.

Leaders understand the importance of respecting a person’s time. Leaders give the speaker their full attention.

When a leader is interrupted, or triaging an important issue, it’s important to let the person know it’s not a good time to talk. Then be sure to circle back to the person when your attention won’t be divided and you can devote time to the speaker.

If you struggle with this, think about a time when someone was more interested in their cell phone than they were in you. I think we’ve all done this, but it stinks, right?

A good question to ask yourself is, could I repeat back what is being said to me? Would I be able to make a statement like, “if I heard you correctly…” and repeat back what you’ve heard?

When someone summarizes your words it’s a signal that you’ve been heard.

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