Masterful Communication: Listening Like a Leader


We can run through all the basics of listening, but I suspect you have heard them all before...

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Lean forward
  • Mirror their body language
  • Give response body language
  • Don't interrupt
  • Don't just wait to talk, but actually listen
  • And on and on

If you want to get better at listening, you need more than the old standby suggestions. You need something more tangible, relevant, and, frankly, interesting.

So, let's look at listening not from a "how do I get the information better" stand point, but rather take a look at how you can get better at processing the information you do get.

It starts with listening like a leader. The leader behavior patterns relevant to information processing are providing value, changing things for the better, serving others, making the most of every interaction, respecting the viewpoints of others, knowing they don't know everything and being available to others. Adopting these behavior patterns will allow you to listen like a leader and process information more effectively.

1. Providing value - As you listen, look for ways to provide value to the other person. I'm not saying you need to always provide feedback or try to improve upon what they are saying (this could hurt the conversation more than help it), but by adopting this mind set you are putting your attention fully in their world.

2. Changing things for the better - There are times when your expertise is necessary and the situation is ripe for that expertise to be given. Take the initiative to listen intently, find the gaps your expert opinion can fill and fill them. If you are offering critical advice to their situation, they have no doubt you are listening.

3. Serving others - Stop what you are doing. Provide full attention to the other person. Ask questions to get them talking about things they are concerned with. All these say you are interested in them more than yourself. One person listening fully to another is a powerful example of service-mindedness. You are giving everything about you to that person at that moment in time.

4. Making the most of every interaction - Start your conversations, either with friends, peers or perfect strangers, like you were already in the middle of a conversation with them. Let your guard down and be you from the very start. It is amazing how quickly people will open up to you. Which is why most people don't do this - they don't want others to open up. They are not interested in listening like a leader - they would rather just move on with their life. My wife always points out service folks (toll booth collectors, drive-thru attendants, etc.) are always telling me their life story. The reason is because I am natural and authentic with them from the very start. And I ask questions and respond to their answer.

5. Knowing they don't know everything - This is the simplest pattern to recognize and sometimes the hardest to adopt. People who think they know everything (and you know at least two or three) are passively and actively encouraging others to not talk. They send signals that turn people away from them, intellectually and physically. They don't listen like a leader. When you get ok with knowing you don't know everything, you get ok with saying you don't understand something (giving someone else the chance to share their expertise), you end up listening more (giving someone else the chance to talk more) and you appear (because you are) more authentic, natural, imperfect, etc.

6. Being available to others - This last point taps into a leader's desire to mentor others. Being available to others doesn't mean you have to set up formal mentoring relationships. It does mean in order to listen like a leader, you have to put yourself in situations, seek out situations, encourage situations and fully commit to situations where you are providing value to someone else just by being an ear to lean on. Say yes when someone asks to bounce an idea off you. Say yes when a younger and/or less experience peer asks for a little of your time. Be available to share what you can.

Come to think of it, if you model these six behavior patterns, you won't just be listening like a leader, you will be living like a leader. Good luck.

Processing Questions for PLI Curriculum Teachers/Trainers:

1. What are some ways that you can provide value while listening?

2. How can you, listening like a leader benefit those around you?

3. How can it benefit you?

4. What are some of the common distractions that take our attention off of the other person?

5. How can you remind yourself to make the most of each interaction?

6. What are some meaningful ways you can show that you are available to others?

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