Active Listening: The Leadership Skill That Never Goes Away

Talking without listening is a monologue, and dueling monologues do not equal a dialogue, much less a conversation.

When training and organizational development took flight as new business disciplines in the 1960s and 70s, one of the more popular topics was active listening. Active listening is a process that focuses on the speaker through the use of appropriate body language, eye contact, and restatement of key points on the part of the listener. Over the past fifty years professional development programs and training seminars have used active listening as a basic communication skill needed for such activities as critical discussions, sales calls, difficult conversations, effective feedback, and customer interactions.

With today’s businesses operating in a state of controlled chaos, active listening is at a premium. Multiply this across distances, time zones, and the technological substitutes for in-person meetings, and you increase the degree of difficulty exponentially.

Some days the barrage of information creates so little headspace that having the time to listen seems impossible. And herein lies a huge misconception. Active listening is not about time. It’s about making the time count. The impact of active listening is engagement, which far outweighs the impact of half-hearted listening, which is mistrust.

To practice active listening on a continuous basis, think FLÉR:

  1. Focus

When it comes to active listening, multi-tasking is a no-no. Give your full undivided attention to the speaker. This means facing the individual with open posture and direct eye contact. If you are on the telephone, focus on something in the room that allows you to listen to the conversation and is not a distraction. Want to really upset somebody? Type away on your computer as they talk. Tell the person that you can multi-task. Then call Dr. Phil and let him know how that’s working for you.

  1. Listen

Listening means not only hearing the words, but also getting below the surface of what’s said. Ask open-ended questions like “how” and “why.” Use “can you give me an example” to get clarity and to better understand what is critical to the speaker.

  1. Éngage

Engagement is the give-and-take of the conversation that enables both speaker and listener to move to action. The roles are interchangeable at this point. The goal is to get to a level of understanding to determine what actions, if any, are needed to move forward. Why the “É”? For emphasis. Engagement has an enduring impact.

  1. Restate

Restatement is the paraphrasing of key points, both factual and emotional, in the discussion. “So you are recommending that we hold the shipment.” Or, “You’re uncomfortable about the quality checks, and that you don’t feel they were thorough enough.” Restatement has the power to clarify what you as the listener have heard. The benefits of restatement confirm that you “got it right” and most importantly, it demonstrates that you were listening.

By incorporating the FLÉR steps into ones daily conversations, one is able to implement active listening that is as critical in today’s fragmented world as it has ever been. In the course of a one-minute or a multi-hour conversation, a leader has the power to connect with others, to enhance credibility, and to create trust through active listening.

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