Elevate Your Leadership Effectiveness by Listening

Larry King once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything.  So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Although that may sound simple, it isn’t easy. Listening is a trait that the best leaders not only exhibit, it’s something they continually work to improve upon.

The most effective listening is more than just “hearing.” It’s actively absorbing what someone says, showing you’re interested in what they’re saying, and providing feedback that leads to growth.

Listening is a skill that requires development, just like any other skill. The best listeners are able to gather more information, provide better guidance, and show others that their voices are valued.

Here are a few of the most effective listening techniques. Identify which skills you could work to improve, and set some listening goals for yourself moving forward.

1. Demonstrate Focus


Easier said than done!

To effectively listen, it’s important to eliminate distractions by silencing your phone and putting it away, closing email, and if you’re in person, turning away from your computer to resist the urge to look at it.

Those steps set the stage and let the person you’re listening to know you’re there to listen. If you feel it would be beneficial, suggest another place to talk without interruption.

In a virtual setting, it’s just as important to remember to turn off distractions like email or cell phones. People can tell if you are texting or distracted, even when you’re not face-to-face.

2. Ask Questions and Mirror to Gain Understanding


One of the biggest listening mistakes made while listening is listening to respond, rather than listening to truly understand.

Avoid formulating a response while the speaker is talking. It’s tempting to have a ready comment as soon as they pause, challenge yourself to devote all your energy to listening and then formulate a response as they conclude. Quiet the noise in your head and if your mind wanders, actively bring it back to what’s being shared.

Make sure you understand the substance of what is being shared with you as well. Mirroring, or reflecting, to the speaker what you’ve heard reinforces understanding. After the information has been shared, mirror what they’ve said to ensure you have full understanding. For example, “If I’m understanding you correctly, you feel as though we should change our reporting process. Do I have that right?”

Remember, you don’t need to solve everyone’s problems, sometimes they just want to talk things through with you.  Asking questions that lead to more details and information allow people to know they are understood.

3. Allow Time for Silence


When you ask a question, allow the person you are speaking with to absorb, ponder, and process before they respond.

Silence can be awkward, but it’s actually your friend. When you’re quiet, you can learn more as the other person feels the need to fill the void of air space.

Allow for 7 seconds of silence to let someone think or ponder an idea. Why 7 seconds? 5 seconds is likely to cut someone’s idea off, but 10 seconds can become too much.

Silence will give you time to truly understand what others are saying, while providing them time to think about their responses. If you don’t receive a response after 7 seconds, consider asking your question in another way.



If we listen carefully, we benefit from the information being shared with us, but we also grow relationships and continue to build trust.

Identify the listening skills you can work on and make a commitment to yourself to improve them.

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Kate Rehling is a Talent Analyst for the Center for Sales Strategy and Engagement Specialist for Up Your Culture.

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