Leadership: Talk less, listen more

Leaders can benefit from understanding how to be a good listener

There may be a link between great leaders and great listeners. Depending on the situation, this concept may require you to talk less and listen more. Taking that concept one step further, sometimes the best leaders can hear what is NOT being said.

Mike Myatt, a leadership adviser to Fortune 500 CEOs and their boards of directors and one of America’s top CEO coaches, explains in his blog post Leadership and the Art of Listening that, “The big miss for most leaders is they fail to understand the purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage – THIS REQUIRES LISTENING.”

Myatt continues, “Don’t be fooled into thinking being heard is more important than hearing. The first rule in communication is to seek understanding before seeking to be understood. Communication is not a one-way street. I’ve interviewed and worked with some of the most noted leaders of our time, and to the one, they never miss an opportunity to listen. In fact, they aggressively seek out new and better ways to listen.”

In her Journal of Extension article titled Are you listening? Phyllis Kemp Worden highlights the following ideas that can help increase listening skills.

  • Improve conditions that affect your hearing: Provide an adequate room or listening environment; remove physical and mental distractions; provide adequate lighting.
  • Create a climate for listening: Prepare yourself the best you can for listening. Show your speaker you’re listening by using proper responses.
  • Practice sincere concentrated listening: If during a speech you take notes, jot down only key words or phrases so you don’t miss some important points or ideas the speaker is making.
  • Take advantage of the thought/speech speed ratio: Make associations, but don’t let your mind wander. Listen for key points and ideas.
  • Don’t judge the speaker too quickly: React to the speaker’s ideas not to him as a person.
  • Recognize that you can improve your listening skills: Practice won’t make perfect, but it will help you.
  • Empathize with the speaker: It may help to put yourself in his place.
  • Listen to how the speaker says it: You may be concentrating so hard you miss the importance of speaker’s emotional reactions and attitudes to what he has said.

Michigan State University Extension offers leadership programs for new and experienced youth and adult leaders who would like to develop or improve their leadership skills. To learn more about this and other programs or to contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension’s Expert Search and search “Leadership,” or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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