Active listening is an important skill that a leader needs to have and practice.
By being an active listener, you can make better decisions, strengthen your relationships with your team, clients, or customers, and also spot opportunities that you might otherwise miss.
Active listening requires the listener to absorb information, comprehend the message, and retain the information conveyed by the speaker. While practicing active listening, you should pay close attention to the speaker’s non-verbal cues (behavior, body language) to gain a full understanding of their message.
Here are 9 ways you can improve your active listening skill.
1. Be the last to speak
If you truly want to learn about other people’s opinions, just sit back and really listen to what everyone is saying. Try not to show judgment or react throughout the conversation. You will be amazed at how much you can learn when you let others lead the conversation.
2. Focus on them, not yourself
Listening is not about you. You cannot actively listen to what others are saying when you are too busy figuring out what you’re going to say. You should not interrupt or finish the other person’s sentences. Stop worrying about how to defend yourself from having your opinions validated, your main focus should be on the other person.
3. Maintain eye contact
When another person is speaking, make sure that you are giving them your undivided attention by maintaining eye contact, instead of checking your phone or computer. You can provide non-verbal cues that you are listening, such as nodding your head or leaning in, but eye contact is the most important component of active listening. Maintaining eye contact for 4-5 seconds each time throughout the conversation helps you display interest and confidence.
If you are doing this virtually, make sure that the other person can see your full upper body, not just your face. This allows them to see your hand gestures throughout the interaction. When it comes to maintaining “digital eye-contact” try to look into your camera, instead of just looking at your screen.
4. Listen to non-verbal cues
In order to fully understand the message that the other person is trying to convey, you also have to pay attention to the other person’s non-verbal cues. Non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expressions, actions, or inaction is often as important as the message itself.
By paying attention to the speaker’s non-verbal cues, you can gain clues on how the person is truly feeling and their honest reaction to certain topics — this will help you gain a deeper understanding of the situation.
5. Withhold your judgment
Active listening requires you to welcome new perspectives, ideas, and have an open mind. Even when you have strong opinions on certain issues, try to suspend your judgment and pay attention to what the other person is saying first, without criticizing or arguing. You are there to listen, absorb and think rather than instantly respond.
6. Verify your understanding
Try to summarize and restate what you are hearing to verify your understanding. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for clarification.
You can say something like “Let me know if I got this right. Are you saying that…” or “I’m sorry, I didn’t follow you, can you repeat or elaborate on that?”
The person will most likely add something you missed or clarify a point that you might have interpreted differently. The best way to verify your understanding is to paraphrase what they’ve said in your own words without any judgement.
7. Ask open-ended questions
Active listening puts emphasis on asking questions rather than telling or making assumptions. You can try asking open-ended questions to encourage the other person to share more of their thought processes and opinions with you so that you can gain a complete understanding of what they are saying.
You can ask questions like “Can you elaborate on that?”, “What kind of solutions have you tried?”, “What do you think about….”.
8. Ask for permission to share your thoughts
After fully understanding what the other person is saying, it can be a good idea to ask for permission to share your thoughts on the topic. Once they agree, provide them with your own suggestions, ideas, and thoughts on the issue.
As a leader or a coach, it is important that you don’t dictate a solution. What you can do instead is to ask further questions that can help them think from different perspectives, guide them, and offer ideas.
9. Recognize the contribution of others
People often overlook the importance of giving recognition to other people’s contributions. Even if there is no real value, thank the person for their time and input. It’s important to acknowledge the person’s effort, ideas, and actions — especially for leaders.
Now that you understand the value of active listening in leadership, it’s time for you to practice it yourself.
At Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching®, we equip leaders and coaches with advanced active listening skill so they can be better listeners and leaders for their stakeholders.
Reach out to MGSCC® today and join our global community of executive coaches.