22 January 2019

LJ conversation - listening skills in leadershipHave you ever been in the middle of a conversation with someone and realised half-way through that you are not really sure what they just said? Perhaps you were either drifting away thinking of something else, or were too busy thinking of how to respond.

It happens to most at some point, but what impression does that give to the person you’re speaking with? One of the single greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever been given by a fellow entrepreneur was that we all have ‘two ears and one mouth’ and we should ‘use them in that ratio’.

In an age where etiquette flies out of the window in favour of smartphone scrolling and multitasking, why can we simply not stop to listen?

Great listening skills are one of the core tenets of leadership, of collaboration and team-working. Yet it isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. So, how do you develop better listening skills?

I read an interesting article on LinkedIn recently that discussed the art of ‘active listening’.

In the article, Glenna Fulks describes how listening has become a lost art. Her advice is to count to eight once someone has finished speaking in order to give yourself time to listen, formulate a response and ensure that you’re not hijacking the conversation or talking over someone before they’ve finished.

Listening v hearing

I think eight seconds may be a little long to wait in everyday conversation, in all honesty, but the concept is absolutely valid. Taking a short pause before responding to someone shows that you’re taking in what they are saying, that you’re engaged in the conversation and are respectful. Not only that, it also gives you the time to consider your response, rather than just blurting something out.

As a younger man, listening was something with which I struggled. I wanted to do things my own way. However, more than 30 years’ experience in business has taught me that listening is one of the single most important skills you can possess.

So, how can you be a better listener? Try taking a pause before responding, or just consider whether you’re really listening or just hearing. It’s surprising what you discover when you really tune in.

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