3 Listening Skills Will Make You A Popular Leader

Linda, listen to me, Linda. Honey, listen to me. 

Do you remember this video of a 3 year old boy negotiating a cupcake with his mom. Posted in 2014, the video gathered millions of views and attention from the media. Time magazine wrote:  “Trapped inside the body of this cute 3-year-old boy is a used car salesman, a corporate lawyer, or both. Either way, his argument for why he should get a cupcake (and why he shouldn’t be punished for trying to secretly steal one) is impressive. Poor mom.” The line, “Linda, Listen to me” has stayed in conversations and as T shirt slogans. 

People can close eyelids and choose not to see but people don’t have earlids to shut ears from listening. Yet, we don’t feel heard. It is because listening is from the mind. Listening is a higher order thinking skill. It is a process, a self regulated process. The process starts with intent, followed by listening to words and picking up non-verbal information like speaker’s body-language. The listener organizes these information and gets to a conclusion in his mind. Many times listener’s mental conclusions make him intercept the speaker. It happens to all of us, whether we are listening to a friend’s conversation or a team’s proposal, we do have the tendenecy to jump in during the conversation.

The listener monitors and manipulates his own listening process while the speaker is talking. Like Linda is not listening to her son’s cupcake demand but has manipulated her listening process to record the negotiation and is indulging her son’s conversation in that direction. 

Great listening skill is a necessity for leaders. In a true story, a Black doctor was facing adjustment challenges at his workplace. He was almost on the brink of being removed from the panel of the doctors. As a measure of intervention, he was assigned a mentor to help him perform at the clinic. The series of tweet by the mentor illustrates the story. The mentor writes: “I did two things – 1. Listened to him 2. Got everyone off his back so he could work and learn.” 

The Black Doctor said to his mentor, “You listened. You listened to my stories of how I was treated by attendings, the school, fellow residents, and patients. Stories of harm small and great. Comments ranging from annoying to really hurtful.

Active listening is a necessary part of being a good leader. Active listening by leaders means they make people feel being heard. It doesn’t mean agreeing to their ideas or suggestions but it means leading with empathy. We discuss types of listeners and the impact of team listening as a critical thinking skill in the third module of SHIFT. 

Here are just 3 simple rules of inculcating the listening skill of making others feel heard:  

1. The intent of no judgment:

Last week I called up a customer service to complain about the  internet speed. I thought I may need a new router to increase the speed but before I completed my sentence my call was transferred to the new internet connection department. I realised, the lady who answered had just the intent of listening to keywords – found ‘new’ and she sent me off.

The first part of the listening process is to have the intent. The intent of no judgement allows you to be a patient listener and not jump to any conclusion before the speaker finishes. 

2. Be the last to speak:

Here is an excerpt from Simon Sinek; “Now, as the owner and CEO of my company, I definitely agree that listening to your employees is a great thing to do. And, most leaders have good intentions when they say they listen. The problem is, leaders often listen the wrong way. What ends up happening is, they tell their employees directly or indirectly what they think about something before listening…and that just defeats the whole purpose of hearing your employees out. “Here’s the problem, here’s what I think… What do you think?”

Speak last. This is what Simon Sinek explained so eloquently in his speech. When you’re the last to speak, you empower your employees to voice their opinions and ideas without you butting in. You also become smarter as a leader, since you get to hear all your employees’ thoughts and suggestions.

3. ‘Yes, And’ – learn from Improv. 

Scan your circle to see which profession has great listeners. Therapists, counsellors are one. They make detailed notes, ask questions and make you feel heard. I want to bring your attention to a form of comedy – Improv. Improvisation, or improv, is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment. Each scene begins with a suggestion from the audience. The performers start with that prompt, making up the story as they go along.

One of the simple rule of improv communication thread is to use ‘Yes, and’ -here the listener acknowledges what the other person has said, and builds on the conversation. Simply put, “yes, and” means performers accept whatever their scene partners do or say as part of the reality of the scene and then build on it with their own contributions. They must be present in the moment, listening carefully, and contributing freely. This acknowledges what the person has said without disregarding it. It sparks conversation instead of shutting it down. This is a great tool for making the speaker feel heard. Try it, it works.

In a recent debate on national television, a guest panelist was seen eating her meal. She was invited to give her point of view, was kept waiting for a long time and then realised the anchor was not letting her speak so she decided to get her grub, err with the camera on. Every time you find someone disregarding the importance of listening skills, they would get treated with an equal indifference (if not munching sounds) instead of thoughts on a topic. As a closing note: there is always room for improvement in listening skills.

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