Many people envision leaders as someone who is standing at a podium, commanding a room, or rallying their team. Leaders are viewed as great orators (speakers) or influencers. However, there is one very critical skill that the best leaders have that is often overlooked – the ability to listen. This skill is especially important for young or new leaders. New leaders sometimes believe that, as a leader, they must be loudest person in the room, talk the most, or always have an opinion. Yet, to be a strong leader, you must first be knowledgeable about the area you are providing leadership in and be able to motivate your team. These skills are important because you need to establish expertise about what you are talking about, and you must be able to get your team to support you. Both of these skills come back to cultivating listening skills.
So, what are some tips for being a good listener?
Be attentive. You cannot be a good listener if you are not paying attention. If you are thinking about what you are going to say next or what you are going to do after the conversation ends, you are not paying attention. If you are checking your social media, texting someone, or holding a side conversation, you are not paying attention. Odds are, if you are not paying attention, the person talking to you is going to be adept at spotting this. Not paying attention sends the message that you are not invested in learning from them, and they are going to know you don’t care about what they have to say. Some things you can do to help yourself stay focused in school include taking notes, putting away distractions such as phones, and avoiding making comments to others while in listening mode.
Be engaged. Ensuring you are fully engaging in the conversation will help you to remain attentive. Someone who is engaged is participating in the conversation, rather than pretend-listening. Being engaged does not mean that you are talking over the person or being disruptive. Instead, it means that you are asking questions related to the subject to seek further clarification, ensuring that you understand what the person is saying, and absorbing what you are learning. Some things you can do to demonstrate engagement in class is to develop scenarios in which you can apply what you are learning, write down questions for Q&A portions of a class, or going back through notes later and writing down observations about what that topic made you think or feel.
Be thoughtful. When listening, your first job is to listen, not to argue or defend. Listening is not the same as agreeing. Fully listen to what the person is sharing with you, and then think about what they are telling you in a way that is open-minded. Being thoughtful means that you take the time to listen first and consider what is being shared before reacting. Sometimes people react with gut emotions rather than thinking through what is being shared and what is behind the message being given. When people do this, they build a reputation for being dismissive, argumentative, and defensive. It creates a situation where it is difficult for people to provide you with feedback. When this happens, it means that you miss out on the best that person can give you. At school, when your teacher is giving you feedback, think about what they are saying and what their motivation is before dismissing them or arguing with them. Usually, teachers have your best interest at heart and provide you feedback to help you grow and become better at what you are doing. Cultivating this skill will make you stand out as a leader in the workplace.
To be viewed as knowledgeable you must be an avid learner interested in constantly learning new techniques and exploring innovations. By learning as much as you can about the area you want to be seen as a leader in, you establish yourself as someone who has expertise about the issue or subject matter.
In order to be able to motivate others to follow you, as a leader, you must understand what motivates them and what they care about. To do that, you have to show them that you care about what is important to them. You must be someone they feel confident in sharing with. People don’t typically share with people who don’t give them a voice, who aren’t interested in hearing what they have to say.
Applying the tips above will help you to establish strategies now which will increase your effectiveness when it comes to exchanging ideas and learning experiences with others, and in building relationships and understanding of what motivates others.