15 Ways Leaders Can Hone Active Listening Skills (And Why They Should)

Originally published by Forbes.com

Loren Margolis, Founder & Managing Director, Training & Leadership Success

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Leaders often rise to their positions by making their voices heard as individual contributors. Once they become part of the leadership team, however, their listening skills become more and more critical to their continued success.

Rather than brushing past or speaking over others’ ideas or concerns, an effective leader actively listens so that they can make better-informed decisions while also staying engaged with employees and stakeholders. To learn more about how to practice active listening skills and why it’s so important for leaders to do this, see the tips members of Forbes Coaches Council share below.

1. Be Fully Present To Gain A Deeper Understanding
Listening actively requires presence, patience and practice. As a leader, it demonstrates your interest in others’ views, helps you to gain trust and enables you to gain a deeper understanding of your team, the issues and different situations. Being fully present with another person is a great gift to give. It means quieting your mind’s chatter while releasing your judgment and the desire to fix. Just listen! – Cath Daley, Cath Daley Ltd

2. Don’t Respond In The Moment
One great way to practice active listening is by not responding in the moment. Just take in what you are hearing, thank others for their thoughts and tell them you’d like to take a few days to digest their great input. Then, schedule a follow-up time where you can close the loop on what they are thinking. This gives others the “floor,” opening space for them to shine. – Christine Andrukonis, Notion Consulting

3. Practice Humility
Practice the phrase, “What I hear you saying is … What am I missing or getting wrong?” This phrase helps a leader listen actively to extract key insights. To work, it requires humility—first, to believe that you might not have understood, and then, to trust there might be more that is worth learning. This listening-plus-humility combination grows the psychological safety that is essential for high-performing teams. – Maureen Cunningham, Up Until Now Inc.

4. Shift Into A Collaborative Mindset
True confidence (as opposed to the false, brash confidence of the hustler) includes humility, curiosity and the willingness to hear other viewpoints. Leaders who get this shift into a creative, collaborative and appreciative mindset—because they know that their own wisdom will always be there to guide decisions even if they listen well to and foster the wisdom of their team. – Lisa Hale, Focused Leadership Consulting

5. Ask More Questions Than You Answer
As a leader’s scope and scale increase, by necessity, they need to move from doing and directing work to developing and empowering others. Leaders realize needed leverage by actively engaging others in thinking and operating on the “next level” through active listening—echoing, shaping and filling in the gaps. Leaders need to lead by asking at least two questions for every one question they answer. – Joe Frodsham, CMP

6. Learn To ‘Read Between The Lines’
Active listening includes clarifying what is heard while learning to perceive and “read between the lines.” Leaders need to learn and understand body language, communication and management styles, and monitor their employee’s behavior to notice and respond to changes. A leader who listens intently and responds clearly will be perceived as an emphatic and supportive leader by the team. – Diane Hudson, Career Marketing Techniques, LLC

7. Create A Checklist To Get Focused
Listening with intention and attention requires you to focus on and be present with the other person. To help you do this, create a checklist of items to help you get focused. Silence your phone, turn off notifications and put away distractions. Then, just listen. If you feel like speaking up, ask yourself, “Why am I talking (WAIT)?” It’s always a good reminder to slow down and listen. – Aaron Levy, Raise The Bar

8. Adopt Reflective Listening
Active listening is a powerful tool to bring greater understanding and awareness to situations. Reflective listening, especially if someone is emotional, can calm them down. This is a crucial skill because when someone is emotional, you cannot reason with them, so this is key to having a successful outcome. The more a leader actively listens, the more informed they become. – Melinda Fouts, Success Starts With You

9. Lead With Questions
The paradox of vocalizing and listening is pivotal in most leaders’ journeys! The more power a leader gets, the more important it becomes to listen to be fed by their stakeholders. One mindset that fuels leaders’ listening is that active and present listening improves the thinking of those around the leader. The practice that relates to this mindset is leading with questions—every question guides thinking. – Katharina Schmidt, Inspiration & Discipline

10. Counter The Urge To Interrupt
As a leader, you’ve accumulated a wealth of experience that makes you the expert in most situations. It’s easy to rush in and share your thoughts. By interrupting, you reduce others’ motivation—motivation that is key to you being a successful leader. Counter the urge. Take a deep breath. Bite your tongue. Focus on their words. By interrupting less, you become a guide, not just an expert. – Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC

11. Be Open To Receive The Whole Message
Upgraded listening intelligence inspires, influences and demonstrates empathy. Deliberate listening focuses on not only the content of the words but also the emotion behind them, the possibilities they spark and the data that surrounds those words. Ditch tired versions of “active listening.” Appreciate the person before they speak, and be open. Receive the whole message they are communicating. – Jessica Hartung, Treelight Leadership

12. ‘Seek First To Understand’
The old saw by Stephen Covey is a simple, but not an easy, strategy to practice: “Seek first to understand.” When you approach others with a mindset of listening to understand and of curiosity, listening improves tremendously. Moreover, the best ideas often come from members of the team and from dialogue, not from the leader alone. Thus, excellent listening skills are crucial to leaders’ success. – Christine Allen, Insight Business Works

13. Focus On How You Can Add Value
A few ways to practice active listening are to remove distractions; make sure your body language is aligned with showing genuine interest (whether in person or on camera); have empathy by trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes; be genuinely curious and interested in their perspective; and focus on how you can add value by actively listening so that you can contribute more effectively. – Sharissa Sebastian, Leadership Mastery Alliance

14. Relax And Enjoy Listening
When people think of “active listening,” they often think of a set of behaviors—leaning forward, nodding, mhmm-ing at all the right times—but this misses the point. Active listening is no more and no less than being human, connected and deeply interested in what the other person has to say. Let go of the “active listening” choreography and relax into being yourself. Enjoy just listening! – Gary Crotaz, KultraLab

15. Apply The WAIT Acronym
A great acronym to apply is WAIT—”Why am I talking?” It’s also useful to apply a filter before opening your mouth by asking yourself these questions: “Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said now? And does this need to be said in front of this audience?” If the answer is “no” to any of them, listen rather than speak. It can also be helpful to take notes to improve listening. – Kathy Bernhard, KFB Leadership Solutions