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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Positive Leadership: Why Listening is So Important for Leaders

According to research from Columbia Business School, expressing yourself well in combination with listening well makes you more influential than would be expected by simply adding these two skills together.

While there are no real secrets to being a better listener, there are some behaviours that can take effort to change. 

Here are a few suggestions for influential listening:

Don’t follow your instincts - at least not always. Listening is sometimes most valuable when it clashes with your instincts and impulses. In a conflict, when someone is disagreeing with you and you really don’t want to hear them out, that is exactly when listening is most useful.

Capture your own attention - Listening is difficult in part because we have a lot of brain capacity, we can process language at 300 to 500 words per minute. But most people speak around 100 words per minute. So we have extra capacity that makes it challenging to manage our attention — instead we look at the person walking across a room or consider an idea bubbling up in our minds. One way to manage your own attention is to put that extra capacity to work by making more effort to draw out your counterpart through questions or to organise in your own mind the points they are making.

Stop interrupting - For just one week, every time you want cut off another person and forge ahead with your own point, wait. Instead, ask a question. It is a way to reflect on your habits and to get more out of others by understanding their points more completely.

....But don’t be quiet - The gold standard of good listening is not measured by how quiet you are. It’s about doing things to let the other person know that you are seriously considering what he has to say. Elicit information, ask questions, make direct eye contact, and whatever you do, don’t engage in other activities while you claim to be listening.

Implement - The real litmus test is what you do after the conversation. The most persuasive thing a manager can do is to implement what people are saying. The rule should be that as long as others’ recommendation is not worse than what you as a manager would do — you should not hold your staff to a higher standard than you hold yourself — then act on their suggestion. Otherwise you’re losing an opportunity to show that you are good listener and to build relationships and trust. And if the idea is worse? You still need to come back with a reasonable explanation in a way that lets the recipient know his views were seriously considered.


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