Listening is not as simple as it seems. As a coach, I get paid to listen to people-and I mean really listen. I get paid to listen because people value powerful listening. By listening to my clients, I can help them discover their true intentions, achieve their goals and reach new heights in the personal and professional lives. Powerful listening creates tremendous value.
How many times have you suggested a new idea only to have people shoot it down…then someone else makes the same suggestion a few minutes, days, months later and people think it is great? This is a very common occurrence.
Some people do take the ideas of others and claim them as their own; however, one of the main causes of “idea stealing” is the fact that people don’t really listen to each other. They may slightly be paying attention and hear bits and pieces of your idea (so they think it was their idea later) but they were really focused on something else. Maybe it was their own thoughts on the subject at hand, their child’s basketball game, the time or even what they wanted to have for lunch. People have a lot going on in their brains and rarely take time to focus on the moment.
Great leaders are great listeners. They focus on both what is being said and what is not being said-they can read in between the lines and spot a great idea. Further, they are supportive of great ideas and realize the power in giving credit where credit is due. Powerful listening instills self-confidence and self-esteem in others and makes them feel valued.
As a leader, you can develop your power listening skills by:
1) Hear what is being said: Make sure you can physically hear the person speaking, especially if there is background noise or if you are using technology.
2) Paraphrasing: Summarize the information being shared with you and repeat it back to the individual who said it. They have a chance to hear your interpretation of the message. You can work together and make sure you are both on the same page.
3) Asking Questions: Clarify and gather more information by asking people questions. Open-ended questions are extremely powerful. Begin your questions with “what” and “how.” Avoid using “why.” Using the word “why” implies judgment and puts people in defense mode. Good listeners are non-judgmental. They are not judging the person. They are listening and working hard to understand both what is being said and what is not being said.
4) Use Intuition: Leaders should use their “gut instincts” or intuition to sense what is not being said. Great leaders have powerful intuitive skills. Use your intuition and strengthen your power listening!
5) Watch Body Language: This is important for both the listener and the speaker. When you are listening to another individual, don’t check your e-mail or watch. Don’t answer your phone or do other things that distract from the conversation. Focus on the other person. Make eye contact (without staring them down!) and make them feel valuable. Time is the most valuable resource we all have, so make conversation time count!
6) Pause: Give people additional space after you think they are done speaking. If you wait a few seconds before speaking, people usually provide you with additional thoughts and information because they have had some time to think and expand on their ideas. This also prevents you from interrupting while helping people realize that you are truly listening and not waiting for them to finish so you can interject your thoughts.
7) The 80/20 Rule: According to the International Coach Academy (2002), great coaches listen 80% of the time and talk or ask questions 20% of the time. This applies to leaders as well. If you want to become a powerful listener, make sure you are in a position of active listening the majority of the time. You will increase your understanding, make others feel valued and learn more than you ever imagined!
“The primary purpose of listening…is to truly understand the other person’s point of view, how they think and feel and how they ‘move through the world.’ ”
(Zeus & Skiffington, 2000)
International Coach Academy. (2002). Module 131: Powerful Listening.
Zeus, P. & Skiffington, S. (2000). The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work. McGraw-Hill