Being A Better Listener Can Improve Your Leadership Skills

By Alan Gehringer

As an executive coach, part of my job is to be a good listener.  Some of this coaching is done in person while a lot of it is done on the phone.  The phone offers even bigger challenges as we lose the eye contact that can help keep us engaged and we lose being able to read the other person's facial gestures and responses.  This is something I need to be aware of and always working to improve.  In my last blog, I talked about Marshall Goldsmiths list of 20 habits that can limit your future success.  As I read through the book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, I found that Marshall included a chapter on listening.  I thought it was interesting and worth sharing some of the highlights.  I think being a poor listener can also hold you back as you develop your leadership skills.

Being a good leader is being a good listener.  And being a good listener is a very active process.  Marshall writes that there are three things that all good listeners do: 

  1. They think before they speak
  2. They listen with respect
  3. They are always gauging their response by asking themselves “Is it worth it?”

Think before we speak 

We all know that you can’t listen if you are speaking.   And the more you tune in to what the person is saying, the better your understanding and response will be.  We have all been in meetings when we hear someone responding to the speaker and the comment is totally off base.  This is an example of someone hearing part of the message and beginning to formulate his or her response before the person is done speaking.  The best approach is to stay focused on the speaker and listen fully until they are through speaking. Take time before you speak to formulate a thoughtful answer if one is appropriate.

Listen with respect

To learn from someone, you have to listen with respect, acknowledge him or her as they are speaking.  Sometimes we do this with simple body or facial gestures. Sometimes with brief comments, like I understand what you are saying, or I see.  Listening with respect gives the person delivering the message the opportunity to be heard and understood.  This is one of the most important things for leaders to do.  Sometimes we have the answers in our head and want to jump to the end of the conversation, but this short changes the sender.  Making good eye contact and treating the other person like they are the only one in the room is the most powerful gesture you can make when listening.  This approach shows the other individual how important they are and has propelled many talented individuals to the top of their game once mastered.

Asking yourself is it worth it?

Asking yourself this question really forces you to engage in the conversation and consider what the other person will feel after hearing your responses.  It engages you to think beyond the discussion to consider:

  1. How the other person regards you
  2. What the person will do afterwards
  3. How the person will behave the next time you talk

This will also help you determine your response.  Do you have something of value to add, or should you just say thank you or make an acknowledgement.   Will our response move the conversation forward, or are we just talking to be heard.

Marshall sums up these tactics:

  • Listen
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Don’t finish the other person’s sentences
  • Don’t say “I knew that”
  • Don’t even agree with the other person (even if he praises you, just say “Thank you”).
  • Don’t use the words “no,” but,” and “however”
  • Don’t be distracted
  • Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking intelligent questions
  • Don’t strive to impress the other person

Take a deep breath before you answer and consider these questions the next time you have a conversation.  You may just find that people respect you more and are listening better to what you have to say.  Good luck.

Learn to build focus, alignment and accountability; read Execute Without Drama by Patrick Thean

Alan Gehringer


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