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The Importance of Active Listening

In an increasingly digital world, listening - really listening - is becoming a scarce skill. So much of our communication has become piecemeal, functional, and broadcast-style in nature. Between the endless interruptions and the one-way nature of our communication, listening ends up playing second fiddle to talking.

But active listening is critical for leaders who want to truly understand their team, customers, and stakeholders - and ensure that everyone's needs are being met.

Active Listening Means Business

Active listening is an essential soft skill. When you listen to people's input, suggestions, and feedback, you build trust, foster a culture of transparency, and encourage loyalty - all things that drive employee motivation, engagement, and retention. Taking the time to listen is also invaluable from a business perspective. It provides insights into how things are going at the operational and personnel levels, highlights potential challenges, issues or opportunities, and lets you step in or course correct if needed. Active listening is also a key skill for effective conflict resolution.

You know the value of active listening. But how do you hone this skill and apply it to your own day-to-day?

Learning to Listen

Active listening is about more than just not interrupting while someone else talks. It's about being engaged, interested, and responsive during communication. Here are some of the elements of active listening you should strive to put into practice:

  • Paying attention. Focus on the speaker, and don't let your thoughts wander. You can make this easier by blocking out meeting times, closing doors, and turning off devices.

  • Body language. Show that you're listening. Use inviting body language- avoid folding your arms, for example - nod at regular intervals, and use "back-channeling" language such as "yes" and "mmhmm" to show that you're invested in the conversation.

  • Restate your understanding. Signal to the other person that you're paying attention by restating or summarizing, seeking clarification, or asking questions. This helps ensure shared understanding - and gives the other person an opportunity to address any confusion.

  • Don't judge. Approach a conversation from the point of interest and curiosity - not one of judgment or a punitive attitude. Let the other person raise ideas or share perspectives without leaping in or correcting them.

  • Take things deeper. Active listening doesn't mean only listening. If you have perspectives, thoughts, or experiences that might add to the conversation, share them when appropriate - and give the other person room to consider them. Find a point at the midpoint of the conversation to do so rather than immediately.

Employ these techniques when you speak to internal and external stakeholders, and you'll get more out of every conversation - and so will your conversation partner.

Listen Like a Leader

Active listening is just one of the key soft skills that will put you on the path toward being an effective leader. Learn how to leverage it in order to build trust by using the CEO Tools Learning Modules. In seven simple, bite-sized steps, they'll show you how to become a more effective leader - and take your company's success and profitability to the next level.

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