Leaders should listen before acting

Dear Dave:Our manager is a good person and means well, but he thinks he needs to have a quick answer for everything. It doesn't matter what the question or problem is, he chimes right in, before thinking about what is going on, or even fully understanding what the situation is. This has led to some mistakes. Please write something about managers that respond before listening. —T

Dear T:Good leaders listen first and act second. It is not uncommon for leaders to act as yours does – they feel the need and pressure to have a quick, prepared answer for everything. They also feel that not having a quick response to everything may make them look weak or confused.

New leaders tend to make this mistake most. They think they must show they know everything about anything, so they jump right into the mix and start speaking before fully comprehending the lay of the land. They also try to establish their authority as soon as possible, and unfortunately, this is done by taking control of the dialogue.

No matter what level of management one has achieved, it's crucial to gain the respect of the employees – and this is done by listening before responding, or feeling the need to pounce on things right away. Employees want their leaders to give them a chance to speak and hear them out.

In addition, effective listening is a way of showing concern for employees, and that fosters cohesive bonds, commitment, and trust. Think about some of the most influential people you have known. I will bet these people had mastered the art of listening and keeping their mouth closed until they knew what they should know – and had something valuable to say.


Learning by listening

In practice, effective listening helps to resolve conflicts, build trust, inspire people and strengthen teams. Research shows that employees choose poor communication as one of the biggest – if not the biggest – problems at their place of work. This often means information is neither shared with employees by managers, nor do managers listen to what employees have to say.

Communication theorists state that the three essential skills of listening, questioning and responding are the backbone of discussion and dialogue. This means managers must master the art of being open and receptive to input, ideas and feedback, asking good probing questions to draw people out and learn more, and then providing the response most appropriate to the given situation. In short, if you want to learn more, be interested in what people have to say and learn to ask better questions.

Many of us – and not just bad managers - spend a lot of time hearing (possibly), but little time listening. During the course of a conversation, we are reacting and talking, thinking about the next thing we are going to say, and then looking for an opportunity to say, "Ooh. Ooh … listen to this." It is at this point, the other person starts thinking how futile the conversation is and checks out.

I know artful, engaging, and respectful listening takes patience and hard work. It is difficult to be quiet and not feel the need to assert yourself by talking before comprehending what others have to say. However, people will hear you out more if you first provide them the opportunity to speak and be heard.

True listeners not only build deeper relationships, they can build better solutions because they take the time to truly understand what is going on. Learning to take a breath before responding will definitely help you as a leader and will improve people's perception of you as a leader.

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