Mark Twain once said that “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would rather have talked”.

For some talking is more difficult than listening; for most, it is the other way round. Good leaders listen. It is an awareness and skill that can and should be developed by anyone intent on leading others or wanting to add value.

So why do most of us find listening so hard?

Perhaps it is because there has been a higher premium placed on speaking. Those who know, say so. We have been taught to speak up, shout out, express ourselves, stand out, shout above the din, and make ourselves heard…it is the prevailing sentiment drilled into us from the beginning. We are conditioned to speak (up) in the prevailing context of a noisy world. It is our speaking that gets us noticed and heard, not our listening – or that is what we have come to believe.

But, the need today is for understanding. Understanding the murky ambiguity and confusing paradoxes that continually threaten to cloud our clarity and discernment. Smart leaders pay attention to creating mind-sets and cultivating habits that lead to greater understanding, and listening is one such habit.

Most people listen with the intent to reply, rather than listen with the intent to understand. Listening with the intent to understand is the first (giant) step towards understanding. Listening is an art and sadly, has all too often become a, ‘lost art’.

It is wonderful to be in the presence of a good and attentive listener; somebody who doesn’t interrupt you and who remains fully present while you are speaking.

Here are six suggestions to help you become a better listener:

  • In your next three meetings in which you participate, be the last to speak. Watch the Simon Sinek clip on this subject You might need to select which meetings these are but the point is that you switch from always speaking to being an active listener (before sharing your opinion). Sinek outlines the huge advantages of adopting this approach.
  • For a single day, in all conversations, when the other person is speaking, make a concerted effort not to interrupt. Remain silent until they have ‘run out of words’. Having done this for an entire day, pause and reflect on what it was like; how difficult was it? How did it impact on the conversation? What did it teach you about yourself?
  • Become aware of the listening ability of others with whom you interact. Pay attention to those who speak often and those who don’t. Become a ‘process observer’ of this in conversations you are part of and examine how others might see your participation in such situations.
  • Google the topic of ‘listening’. You are sure to find a wealth of resources; ideas, quotes, and motivations that will help you develop and cultivate this attribute.
  • Share your intent on developing this habit with someone who you think will be in a position to help hold you accountable and/or give you feedback on your progress.
  • Start to listen to what is being said beyond what is being said. In other words, start to pay attention to body language and other props that will provide an insight into something deeper than the words being spoken. This takes listening to a completely deeper, but important, level. Good listeners are able to hear what is not being said as much as what is being said. Practice becoming aware of what these indicators are in others as well as yourself. There is much that can be learned along this particular pathway, so look to chat to a psychologist or do some of your own research into deepening your understanding in this area.

The world needs a new leadership response to a global context of change, complexity and uncertainty. Leadership Thinker (and author of today’s Tuesday Tip), Keith Coats is passionate about helping audiences around the world to understand what this response looks like and to equip leaders with the tools needed to respond to this changing context.

Keith’s research and global experience of over 20 years has helped him identify the key-defining factors of a successful leader in the 21st century as the ability to learn, grow and be adaptable. It is his great privilege to help leaders access new frameworks and thinking in order to successfully lead into the future. Chat with us if you’d like to explore how he could help your team prepare for the future.


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