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Why Good Listeners Make For Great Leaders

While powerful leaders are often thought of as charismatic and dominant, data shows that introverted leaders are often just as, if not more, effective than their more gregarious counterparts. One advantageous characteristic of more introverted leaders is their listening abilities. Whether you’re a natural listener or need to work on it, read on for insights into why it’s important to really hear—and retain—what your colleagues and peers are telling you.

Listening first can help you make less emotional decisions

Leaders will inevitably encounter stressful or tense circumstances since it’s naturally a part of the job, and practicing listening can actually help you diffuse the situation and make a more well-thought out decision. Rather than practicing brute force if something isn’t going your way, listening to your team can often reveal insights you wouldn’t otherwise happen upon, as well as give you some time to collect your thoughts and any emotions about the situation—ultimately leading to a more level-headed decision.

Good listeners are better at anticipating problems

Keeping an ear to the ground can help leaders know what’s coming, as employees who feel heard are not only likely to continue keeping their managers in the loop, but also more apt to share their feelings and other information that might help to make better leadership decisions. While ineffective listeners can risk missing important intel in exchange for pushing their own agendas, those who take the time to understand their employees’ concerns can often foresee problems before they happen.

It contributes to building trust and loyalty

Listening can be powerful not only in helping you make better decisions, but also because it’ll secure buy-in and respect from your team. While it’s important for leaders to set clear boundaries between themselves and their employees, it’s just as important for everyone to feel part of a team—and that team needs to include you. Leaders who ignore their team’s thoughts risk burning bridges and breaking down trust, whereas those who learn to listen earnestly are more likely to gain loyalty.

They understand the difference between listening and acting

While listening is important for the reasons mentioned above and many others, good leaders also know when and when not to act on what they hear. Having a good sense of your team members’ frustrations and limitations can make you better-equipped to help them, but strong leaders understand that consensus-based decision-making isn’t always preferable—and know how to listen effectively without making undeliverable promises in response to what they’re hearing.

Tips for listening more effectively

  1. Make your goal to understand, not to reply: It can be tempting to start formulating your responses as someone is speaking, but instead practice listening with the goal of understanding what the other person is saying. It’s OK not to have a response to everything—even as a leader—and allowing for some silence can often draw out additional thoughts from your team members.
  2. Ask questions: While having a pre-thought out response to everything can make it seem like you’re not actually listening, asking for further detail does the opposite: It indicates that you’re actually thinking through what you’re being told to the point of having additional questions about it. Doing so can not only help the speaker feel heard, but also get you closer to the heart of what they’re actually saying—whether that’s because you require more information that wouldn’t otherwise have been provided or because they won’t disclose everything until they feel comfortable.
  3. Avoid interrupting: Regardless of your position, inserting your thoughts in the middle of someone’s sentence is generally regarded as rude—but subordinates won’t often complain to their superiors. Even if you have something of immense importance to add, do your best to hold your tongue until the other person has finished their thought.
  4. Put distractions away: It seems obvious, but avoid looking at your phone, computer, Apple Watch, or other distracting devices when you’re trying to listen intently. Particularly for executives who are constantly bombarded with emails and other requests, it can be tempting to always have a handle on what’s incoming, but try to prioritize face-to-face conversations when you’re having them.