The Power of Active Listening in Leadership

What differentiates an average manager from a great one? The answer often boils down to soft skills such as active listening. Active listening is an often overlooked yet powerful skill that affects a leader’s ability to connect with employees. Healthy communication between leaders and team members is essential, as this establishes a foundation of trust. When employees know that their voices will be heard, they are more likely to share ideas and provide honest feedback. In turn, this keeps employees engaged and motivated, transforming the dynamics of the workplace and fostering a culture of mutual respect and collaboration.  

What is Active Listening?

There is a profound difference between hearing someone and actually listening to them. Active listening requires giving someone your undivided attention. This means that you are not reading an email, looking at your computer screen, or multitasking while someone is speaking to you. Rather, you are making eye contact, nodding your head, and responding appropriately with genuine interest as the other person speaks. 

Why Active Listening is Important

It is often said that people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. The number one complaint employees have about their bosses is that they don’t listen. In todays’ world, where technology and emails dominate the workplace, listening is more important than ever. It not only helps you gather pertinent information, but it also helps build relationships by showing your team that they matter. The simple act of listening demonstrates to employees that their insights are valuable, their concerns are valid, and their feelings are important to you. By practicing active listening, you aren’t just respecting your employees, you are transforming your leadership style into one in which ideas are shared freely and different perspectives are respected. 

How to Engage in Active Listening

Active listening involves focusing your attention on someone so that they feel heard and understood. Though not difficult to learn, listening skills do take some practice to master. Here are some ways you can engage in active listening.

Focus on the person.

Active listening involves focusing all of your attention on the person who is speaking and listening without interrupting. You shouldn’t be formulating a response in your head as they are talking, but rather listening and seeking to understand their point of view. Be mindful of both the speaker’s body language 

Communicate that you are paying attention.

People can tell when you’re not really listening to them, so let your body language and eye contact demonstrate that you are paying close attention. This involves facing the speaker and making direct eye contact, nodding your head, and sitting or standing in an open position. 

Acknowledge the speaker.

Occasionally comment with something like, “Uh huh,” or “I see,” to indicate that you are following along. This doesn’t necessarily indicate agreement, but simply shows that you are actively listening to what the other person is saying. 

Don’t interrupt. 

You may be tempted to jump in and share your thoughts before the speaker is finished, but interrupting shows impatience and disrespect. It also frustrates the speaker and prevents them from getting their message across. 

  • Respond authentically.

The purpose of active listening is to gather information and gain perspective. Be open and honest in your responses and do so in a respectful manner. Focus your responses on the issues instead of the person.