Speaking is Easy, Listening is Hard

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Most leaders are pretty darn good speakers, but many of them are not very good listeners. And I think I know why. When we have to give a speech, lead a meeting, or conduct a performance review, we take time beforehand to work out what we will say, how we will say it, and what body language we might use. And then we rehearse, and rehearse, and rehearse. The more important the speaking engagement, the more we practice. Why? Because we want to look good. And we don’t want to mess up.

So why do we fail so miserably at listening? Because we simply don’t practice. If we want to be more effective listeners, we must dedicate ourselves to practicing the craft. The most effective communicators consistently practice the act of listening, or more accurately, active listening, or as Capt. Mike Abrashoff in his fantastic book It’s Your Ship puts it, aggressive listening.

Any way you slice it, listening is one of the most important aspects of being a great leader and a great speaker. In fact, listening is THE most effective tool you have in your leadership toolbox. This tool alone builds stronger relationships, assists in critical thinking, improves decision making, and pretty much saves the world on a regular basis.

Ok, so I was going to write a nice little post about how to be a more effective listener, but then I stumbled upon the perfect post on Forbes.com. And since I don’t want to steal the bulk of it, I’ll send you there directly.

Just in case you don’t want to follow the link, here are the 10 tips (Dianne Schilling calls them steps) to effective listening. Read the steps, do the work, and practice every chance you get!

  • Step 1: Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
  • Step 2: Be attentive, but relaxed.
  • Step 3: Keep an open mind.
  • Step 4: Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.
  • Step 5: Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions.”
  • Step 6: Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.
  • Step 7: Ask questions only to ensure understanding.
  • Step 8: Try to feel what the speaker is feeling.
  • Step 9: Give the speaker regular feedback.
  • Step 10: Pay attention to what isn’t said—to nonverbal cues.

Don’t just read this post and move on to the next one. Decide to be a better listener. Practice, practice, practice.

You’re welcome.

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