Learning to Listen

May 2022 |

3 steps to becoming a better listener and a more effective leader.

Listening to employees is a vital skill that boosts employee confidence, productivity and teamwork, and creates a professional atmosphere of support and mutual respect.

But it’s difficult for most people. “Leaders are the worst listeners of all,” says human resources business consultant Heather Romano. “We are problem-solvers, we want to help, but we feel way too busy to listen to people.”

To become a better listener and a more effective leader, she recommends practicing three strategies:

1. Check your body language. When someone talks to you:

  • Keep your hands folded on your desk or at your sides. Do not cross your arms.
  • Maintain eye contact. “This can be really difficult for hard-core introverts,” she says. “I consciously have to remind myself to do it.”
  • Keep your lips closed and don’t move them. “You can say ‘mm-hmm,’ but don’t open your mouth until they’re done,” says Romano. “Or you can jump in when they take a breath if they’re really a talker.”
  • Count to two before speaking.

At first, these techniques won’t actually make you a better listener, cautions Romano, because you’ll be focusing so hard on your body language that you may not hear what people are saying. “But with practice it becomes more natural, and you will be able to hear them,” she says.

2. Repeat key words and points. As the employee speaks, try to repeat back one or two points. This will help keep you focused and allow you to check your comprehension. “Tune in to the key words that they’re saying and repeat them back,” says Romano. “If your mind started wandering and you realize they just said something important like ‘surgery,’ say, ‘Sorry, can you reiterate the surgery part?’”

Try to summarize your understanding of what they said. Useful phrases:

  • “So, what you’re telling me is …”
  • “Let me make sure I heard you right.”
  • “Let me make sure I am understanding this.”

“If you’re wrong, they will repeat and condense their point,” says Romano.

3. Ask before giving advice. If someone comes to you with a problem, ask their permission before you give advice, says Romano.

Things to say:

  • “Do you want my take on this?”
  • “Do you want my opinion on that?”
  • “Did you want me to add my thoughts?”

“Most of the time they’ll say, ‘No, I just wanted to tell someone,’ and walk out,” she says.

Make the effort to cultivate these three practices. “Listening is one of the most important skills,” says Romano. “People just want to be heard.”