Critical Leadership Traits – The Art of Listening

This is the first article in my five part series on Leadership Traits.

In today’s busy world, our minds race at 100 mph for eight, ten, or twelve plus hours per day. Depending on the job you have, you may be in 50-100 conversations daily. Remember that texts and back and forth emails are considered conversations. Some of these are short and others go back and forth many times.

It’s interesting looking back at over 30+ years in HR, I have observed there are a handful of common traits I have seen in the truly great leaders I have worked with over the years. One of these traits is the art of listening. For decades, the best leaders I have seen are those who speak the least and are great at gathering and synthesizing information. You may think listening is simply the act of not talking, but that is far from the truth. Especially if you are in a meeting with 10 other people discussing a complex problem you are working through.

The art of listening is distilling information and then repeating an abbreviated version back to the other participants in many cases. You also have to determine the validity of the information being shared. Some is highly valid and some is a person speaking for air time and saying nothing material along the way. We all know what that looks like.

The best listeners I have seen ask great questions that really cut to the heart of the situation. They can also use silence as an effective weapon. The best sales people can usually use silence very strategically. Our American culture in general does not like silence. It’s like dead air on radio and it makes us feel uncomfortable and we want it to end quickly.

A few basic tips to increase your listening skills.

Mentally think about listening more that you are talking. For example, in interviews, if you are the interviewer, you should be doing 20% of the talking and 80% of the listening.

Have a set of great questions in your repertoire. A few examples would be: That’s fascinating, can you tell more about that? I’m not sure I understood that, can you restate the key points again? Can you describe that more clearly? Would you give me a specific example of what you mean? What do you think we should do?
Lastly, practice active listening. It may sound simple, but it sometimes takes practice to perfect this skill. Remember, this is paraphrasing what the speaker said back to them during the conversation. This is more effective in 1 on 1 conversations vs. group settings. It looks something like this: Let me tell you what I heard you say, let me make sure I heard you correctly, to recap, here’s what I heard.
Like many skills in life, good listeners make it look easy, Unless you intentionally practice it, you won’t get better. Focus on a few ideas shared above and really focus on being silent as part of being a great listener.
Watch the
Latest Episode of
HR Problem Solver

Talent Management Tips

Thank you for liking and subscribing to our podcast!
 It helps us grow our audience!
Small and medium-sized businesses may not have the time or expertise to implement the necessary people strategies for business success. The ideas above can be easily implemented by you to help improve the performance of your employees which leads to increased employee engagement and increasing the bottom line.

We are here to help you with the people side of your business: employee engagement, retention programs, performance management, vision, and strategic plans, leadership development, selection & onboarding, compensations programs, organizational design, employee handbooks, core values, and all things HR-related.