How often have you been told that you’re a good listener? Do you think you’re a good listener? What is a good listener? The concept of a good listener is undervalued or at worst completely ignored in organizations. A good listener is a person who takes the time to genuinely hear and understand what another person has to say. It is listening minus the internal judgments, rebuttals or just pure random thoughts that start to creep into our minds as we listen to another person speak. We all have trouble with listening, even the Dalai Lama. Well maybe he has a little less trouble than the rest of us. Nevertheless, the ability to genuinely listen is an essential quality of an exceptional leader and exceptional leadership teams. The positive return on genuine listening in the workplace comes in many forms but the biggest benefits come down to the following:

  • Builds trust among leaders and staff.
  • Reduces conflict and misunderstanding.
  • Leads to deeper learning.
  • Increases likelihood of better decision-making and quality of work.
  • Helps build an overall work culture of positive and productive engagement.

How do you engage in good, productive listening? Peter Senge, MIT senior lecturer and founder of the Society for Organizational Learning believes that we first have to “quiet our minds” to truly hear what another person has to say. This calls on us to slow down in the moment and consciously make a commitment to genuine listening. In your next meeting with a co-worker or group, before you even enter the room, make a personal commitment to genuine listening. Before heading into or starting the meeting take a few deep breaths with the aim of clearing your mind and say to yourself, “I am going to focus on listening in this meeting.” It has to be that intentional, that purposeful or it is highly unlikely you will follow through with your commitment. A few other tactics to keep you in the genuine listening mode:

  • Ask the person talking if you can repeat what you think he or she is saying and check to see if you are on track.
  • Ask questions that seek only to clarify what a person is saying, not to refute or give your opinion on what is being said.
  • Take written notes for yourself and jot down the high points of what you think you are hearing the other person say.
  • Ask yourself, “Am I listening or going into the mode of mentally crafting my response or opinion?”
  • Ask yourself, “Am I listening with a sense of genuine curiosity and openness to learning or am I listening selectively to reinforce my own point of view?”

Genuine listening is about making sure you are seeking to understand what the other person is communicating, not lying in wait to make your counterpoint. Listening is not waiting. This is a listening trap for many of us. We listen impatiently, not to understand, but to go into debate mode, waiting for an opening to start advocating for our position. Individuals and groups that regularly practice genuine listening and its related skills report experiencing meeting discussions as much richer, more generative, productive and fun! Give it try — in your next management team meeting, in your next conversation with your spouse or teen, in your next 1-1 with a colleague – and let us know what happens.