Lessons in Leadership: Active Listening

Are you getting the most out of your interactions with others? Are you hearing what’s being said, or just preparing your response as the other person speaks? Active listening creates an environment that invites an open exchange of ideas. However, we need to cultivate skills for the most effective listening and lead by example in order to get the most out of our conversations.

There are three levels of listening:

  • Internal listening is where you’re not actually listening at all. You’re silent, and you’re giving the speaker your attention, but you are thinking about an email you need to send or a client you haven’t reached out to in a while or a thousand other things. Everyone has been guilty of this kind of listening at some point, and we need to train ourselves out of it.
  • Focused listening is a little better than internal listening, but still not the connection you need to really engage with the person speaking to you. You’re only half listening. You’re getting the broad strokes, but probably not catching all the details.
  • 360 listening is what your goal should be. This is where you are really connecting with the person speaking to you. You’re absorbing what this person is sharing with you, and you’re getting more than just the general message – you’re also picking up on nonverbal cues and nuances that you miss with simply focused or internal listening.

Now that we know what the goal is, how do we achieve it? One executive noticed a huge shift in her listening abilities – and what she got out of her conversations – by simply closing her laptop when she was speaking with someone. This made the difference between focused listening and 360 listening. Set aside unscheduled time in your day. This will give you more clarity when you do have your one-on-one interactions with others. Lastly, look people in the eye during a conversation. Take a genuine interest in what they are saying to you. Be the leader who is able to make a real connection.

For more information, see the article from Harvard Business Review.