Five ways REALLY listening can make you a more likeable leader

by Brent Roy


“Authentic listening is not easy. We hear the words but rarely do we slow down to listen and to squint with our ears, to hear the emotions, fears and underlying concerns.” Kevin Cashman

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/or respect. If you don’t consider yourself a great listener, with a little extra effort, you can become one. It worked for me.

During the debrief of our Insights Personality Profile results in the office of our communications department 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." Actually, what I heard was, "You're not a very good blah-blah-blah..." because apparently, I'm not a very good listener. :-)

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, 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. Here are the five “F’s” that can help you start to squint with your ears:

FORSAKE all distractions. Get rid of the clutter on 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. 

Body language. Lean FORWARD. 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 response or to inject 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, or, because of a deadline or some other genuine distraction that won't allow you to give your full and undivided attention, it's OK to say, “I apologize. I'm interested in hearing how this all worked out for you but I really 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 these tips with every conversation and even the most distracted, eyes-glazed-over listener (like I was) can become an active listener. It will also make you more valuable on the job market. According to Employment and Social Development Canada, active listening is projected to be the skill most needed for jobs in the the next five years.

After a few years of consciously applying these steps to my conversations, people did notice the difference. In fact, 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 for you!

Brent Roy is a Certified Professional Leadership and Life Coach

Brent’s “Coach Approach to Engagement” workshop includes a component on learning to communicate effectively with your team through active listening, asking powerful questions and using direct communication.

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Brent Roy
Brent Roy Coaching and Consulting