How Well Do You Listen?

How well do you listen? One of the biggest challenges leaders have is to listen well. There’s just so much on their minds it’s hard to be fully present. Yet if one doesn’t hear well, nothing can create bigger problems. (Photo by Danilo Rizzuti)

Here’s an exercise to try to find out how well you listen… Go have a conversation with someone for a few minutes. You can use the phone. While you are listening to them, notice what else you are attending to while they speak. What other thoughts do you notice running around inside your head?

This is a good exercise to try, but it’s really hard since you have to pay attention to what the other person is saying and still take note of your own thoughts at the same time. So maybe it’s easier when you try it out with someone who’s a good talker and who goes on a bit.

Thanks to David Rock in his book Quiet Leadership, here’s a suggested list of what you might notice going on in your head while you’re listening. You may be listening for:

  • Opportunities to sound intelligent
  • A chance to seem funny
  • How you can sound important
  • Information you want
  • External distractions such as other noises, music, etc.
  • What’s going on with the other person
  • Your own thoughts, and not listening at all
  • How you can help
  • How to understand the problem
  • How you can benefit

I’ll add a few more of my favorites:

  • How I can give advice
  • How I can solve their problem
  • How I can turn the conversation around to me and what’s going on with me
  • How I can control the length of the conversation

And to be a little positive as well:

  • An opportunity to reinforce the person
  • Provide positive feedback
  • How people feel
  • Point out a bright side they may not be seeing
  • A chance to encourage and support the person

When Marshall Goldsmith wrote his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he made a list of 20 faulty habits that leaders engage in. About three-quarters of them contribute to or directly cause bad listening. Think about this: the best bosses are really good listeners. They “hear” what you have to say.

Go ahead and try this exercise. You may be surprised at what you find out about yourself!

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