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10 ways for leaders to be better listeners now
More than ever, people need the psychological safety to share what's on their minds and to feel heard. Here's how to take your active listening skills to the next level
6. Listen more than you talk
“The most important rule of listening is the 3-1 ratio. Listen three times longer than you talk. The next rule is to ask more than you respond. Typically people have a comment after another person speaks. Great leaders follow up with questions."
"Finally, this is a time when leaders are hearing hard things about their teams and organizations. They’re receiving inputs that may challenge the foundation of what kind of leader they thought they were. To rise to the opportunity of this moment, leaders must pause deeply on hearing negative or difficult feedback. Instead of letting yourself ruminate on the idea, ‘this feedback is off base or wrong,’ give yourself time to reflect on, ‘if this is true what changes can I make?’ This is another form of using a question response instead of a statement response to build strong leadership in tough times.” – Dr. Bahiyyah Maroon, president and chief data officer of Polis Institute
7. Practice "Yes, and"
“Take a tip from improv and use the ‘Yes, And’ technique. You practice listening, agreeing, and expanding on a concept. In order to expand, you must understand. To operationalize this, ask open-ended questions that let the person know you hear them and want to know more."
"It is not just listening, it is trying to see the problem from the side of someone else, and understand why they are saying it. You do not have to validate the idea, but you must validate the person.” – Ed Jaffe, founder of Demo Solutions and adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University
8. Watch monologues and observe conversations
"Listening is a skill anyone can master with constant practice. It’s like learning any sport or musical instrument. Here are two exercises:
Watch monologue videos. “Every day, go to Youtube and search for a monologue. Once the video starts, pay complete attention to what the actor is saying. Once the video is over, jot down everything you remember. Most monologues are longer than normal conversations, so this exercise forces you to listen for longer periods of time. Over time, this will increase your focus while listening and will make shorter conversations easier to retain.”
Observe other conversations. “Pay attention to other conversations and other types of listeners. This could be in the cafe or even in a board meeting. Observing even the worst listeners is of great value as it teaches you what not to do. Do not try this exercise if you’re part of the conversation, though. This will just make you a bad listener.” – Will Ward, CEO of Assistive Listening HQ
9. Don’t just listen, do something
“As a leader, one of your top priorities should be to listen to what your employees have to say. Whether that be for company improvements, or just help in their day-to-day lives. But it doesn’t stop there – you actually need to offer them assistance or do something about what they have told you."
"There is a reason they have come to you for advice/help: you are in a position to make a difference in their lives. This is especially relevant now, with so many employees uncertain or worried about their position, well-being, etc. It is more important than ever to hear what they are saying and try to help them feel as safe as possible, within your capabilities.” – Carla Diaz, co-founder of Broadband Search
10. Match listening style to the speaker
“When it comes to listening, just like speaking, there is no ‘one size fits all.’ Since humans communicate differently, we need to listen to others in different ways. For example, one person may not want to be interrupted but rather run with their stream of consciousness. Others may need regular feedback (either verbal or nonverbal) that lets them know the listener is following and engaged. Great leaders have multiple ways of listening, just like they have multiple ways of communicating.” – Jeremy Teitelbaum, professor of communication studies at Cal Poly State University
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