How this Standout Skill Can Help You Become a More Likeable Leader
by Brent Roy
Think about it. If you were to write down the names of three people you consider to be really good listeners, chances are, none of them are people you can’t stand. These are people you like, love and respect. If you don’t consider yourself a great listener, with a little extra effort, you can learn how this standout skill can help you become a more likeable leader. It worked for me. Once I understood I could learn to listen actively–really listen, it helped me to become a more likeable leader.
Our communications department debriefed our Insights Personality Profile results several years ago. Each staff member shared what we thought were accurate insights about our and each other’s profiles. It’s always nice to hear the accolades but I was a bit jolted when one coworker blurted out to me, “You’re not a very good listener.” What I heard was, “You’re not a very good blah-blah-blah…” because apparently, I’m not a very good listener. And people noticed.
People Notice When You’re Not Listening
To be fair, I was not surprised she did not consider me a very good listener. Her habit of greeting me each morning (the busiest part of my day) with an ordered, detailed list of her activities since we last spoke the afternoon before, was challenging. This sometimes caused my eyes to glaze over (visibly, apparently).
Thankfully, a very short time after such a raw revelation, I had to admit that she had been right. I was the one who had not been listening and was essentially the rude one in the conversation. From the sting of that stark divulgence and onward, I made it a point to find ways to become a better listener. Until then, I didn’t understand what active listening was.
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing verbal and non-verbal messages being sent, and then providing appropriate feedback demonstrating attentiveness to the message being presented. It’s much more than just hearing the words; it’s being fully present in the conversation, truly taking in all aspects of the other’s communication. Active listening is a skill we all can learn. I practised five tips to help me learn active listening:
You Can Learn Active Listening
Here are the five “F’s” that can help you start to squint with your ears:
- FORSAKE all distractions. Get rid of the clutter in the space between you and the speaker. Newspapers and documents scattered across the desk or table can be a barrier to really listening. Don’t allow your attention to be diverted to the computer screen at the chime of a newly-arrived email. Don’t answer the phone and avoid looking at your watch or cell phone. These can wait. Even on a Zoom call, look directly at your camera. This allows other participants to feel you’re looking him or her in the eyes.
- Lean FORWARD. It’s all about open body language. Avoid crossing your arms and leaning back. Maintain eye contact with the speaker.
- FIGHT the temptation to interrupt. You’re not really listening if your mind is at work trying to come up with a comment that places attention back on you.
- FITTING questions. Ask questions that show the other person that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying and you want to learn more.
- Don’t FAKE it. When you begin to imagine the eye-glaze about to slide in, stop yourself. If some genuine distraction won’t allow you to give your full and undivided attention, it’s OK to note that. You could say, “I apologize. I’m interested in hearing how this all worked out for you but I do have to finish this report by 2:00. If you’re free at 2:30, maybe you could pop by and we could pick up where we left off then.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice these tips with every conversation and even the most distracted, eyes-glazed-over listener (like I was) can become an active listener. Actively listening will also enhance your executive presence and make you more valuable in the job market. According to Employment and Social Development Canada, active listening is the standout skill most needed for jobs in the next two years.
I consciously applied these steps to my conversations, and after a few years, people noticed the difference. I was equally jolted by a comment from a fellow student at a Public Service Management course a few years back:
“Brent displays excellent communication skills both in articulating his point while showing respect for other points of view and by exhibiting good listening skills”.
If I can do it, then there’s hope that you, too can become the leader more people really like!
Brent Roy, PCC, CPLC, a certified executive, career and personal development coach, works with men and women who want to increase their confidence and boost their executive presence to prepare them for promotion or a new career. For more ways I can help, please reach out!