Do you know one of the most powerful skill sets that most great leaders and influencers share? I won’t make you guess – it’s the dynamic duo of deep active listening and curious questioning. Today, I’d like to share some strategies of active listening you can use to strengthen these core skills that are key to your growth as an effective leader.
Skill Sets That Great Leaders Leverage
Of course, there are many different skill sets that great leaders and influencers leverage. But here are some of the most commonly shared to create engaging growth-centred work environments:
- Mentoring others
- Coaching others
- Positively influencing and persuading
- Receiving and giving meaningful and impactful feedback
- Managing difficult conversations
- Dealing with conflict in the workplace
- Decision making and critical thinking
- Building trusting relationships and teams (psychological safety)
And at the very heart of all of these lies deep active listening and great questioning.
The Problem With Normal (Surface) “Listening”
Here’s the thing. In normal conversation, we typically don’t really listen very closely. Instead, we …
- Never slow down enough to be present and really listen
- Think about what we’re going to say next rather than what the other person is seeking to convey
- Want to be interesting (vs interested)
- Listen for agreements rather than insights
Which means we’re not truly absorbing what the other person is saying.
What is Deep Active Listening?
By contrast, Active Listening is about listening with your whole body. It’s not just intellectually listening, it’s deep listening.
You not only hear what the other person says. You’re also aware of the other person – their breathing rate, their tone, their facial expressions and their body language.
Because the truth is, there’s a lot that gets left unsaid in the way we communicate with each other.
So, when we employ deep active listening, we …
- Pay close attention to what the other person is saying and how they say it
- Get really curious about what they are saying and why they are saying it
- Listen for insights
- Slow down to allow us to speed up our understanding
Want a quick tip to help you get better at active listening right away? Next time you are in a conversation, press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth.
This trick helps you to stop jumping into the conversation so you can truly listen.
Where To Apply Active Listening
So, whether you’re in a leadership role or not, think about how you can use these skills when you …
- Positively influence and persuade others
- Coach or mentor others in your team or organisation
- Are faced with a difficult conversation or conflict
- Need to define a problem and make a decision
And in many of the other conversations and interactions you have as a leader. All of these situations can benefit from active listening and deep, creative questions.
Active Listening Is A Mindset And A Skill
If you’ve read some of my other articles, you might recognise this simple model. Basically, your beliefs impact your thoughts and feelings which then influence the way you behave, which ultimately creates the impact and results that you experience.
And when we think about deep active listening, there is a specific mindset (cognitive approach) and an emotional state (feeling) around it. You need to embody a mindset and emotional state of curiosity to make it work. Let’s explore a little about how to do that.
Cultivate A Mindset Of Curiosity
There are two common things that get in the way of active listening;
1. The time you have available for a meeting, conversation or one-on-one. For example, if you’re rushing into a meeting to make a decision, the sense of a lack of time may close down your curiosity. It reduces your ability to be open, humble and listen with your whole body about a potential problem.
2. The other common barrier to practing deep active listening is being comfortable with uncertainty and a sense of vulnerability. Practing a mindset and emotional state of curiosity requires you stepping into uncertainty and ambiguity. It means you letting go of knowing the answer and the sense of control that you might think you have about a situation.
In the long run you will be much more effective as a leader if you can cultivate curiosity and openness because that’s what will allow you to actively listen, ask great questions and help open up the problem space to see the real challenges that need to be worked on.
8 Examples Of Listening Skills
Listening skills is a very big topic. But here are some basics to get started listening actively.
1. Be present and stay focused
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Make a point to be present and focused on the conversation.
2. Be aware of your biases
The truth is, you have many biases when you walk into any room with different people. You might think they know more than you. Or maybe that they’re not capable enough to do this job and you need to tell them what to do. Or any number of other thoughts.
Be aware of those and take them into account so you can really listen without being blocked by your own biases.
3. Detect emotions
As you’re listening, don’t just listen for the words. Look for changing colour in someone’s face or a change in their breathing pattern. Are they fidgeting? Maybe they are actually more uncomfortable than they’re letting on?
When you pay close attention to details like these you’ll know when to ask more questions.
4. Be curious and ask questions (aim for 80:20 talk time)
Aim for about an 80:20 talk time, meaning 80% questions and listening and only 20% of the time is you talking.
5. Ask open-ended and probing questions
Use questions like …
- How might we…?
- What might be going on for you?
These types of questions open up problem spaces. But stay away from Why questions. “Why” may make people feel put on the spot and feels accusatory. Like … “Why did you do that?” “Why are you not doing X?”
Focus more on who, what, when, where, and which questions.
And then come down to narrowing questions at the end when you’re ready to close out the conversation such as, “So, what could be your next step?”
6. Don’t interrupt or preempt
Don’t interrupt or preempt when the other person is talking. Let them work out their thoughts verbally.
7. Allow the silence
Be comfortable with the silence. In coaching, you might have to sit there for three minutes while your coachee goes looking for their answer. Be okay with that and don’t jump in. I’ve sat quietly in silence after asking a question many a time in a caoching session – it still feels uncomfortable after many years coaching.
We all get uncomfortable with silence, so teach yourself to be patient when it happens.
8. Recap facts
Let your coachee know you understand them by repeating back what they said, using their own type of language.
Most people have a certain style of speaking. For instance, visual = “I see what you’re saying.” Auditory = “I hear what you’re saying.” Kinesthetic = “I get what you’re saying.”
Listen to the words they use and use them back so they feel understood.
How To Practice Listening
As with any new skill, give yourself time to practice and become proficient before expecting to begin seeing the results you’re hope for.
Whatever your next conversation might be, give some of the tips in this article a try. And from there, just start using active listening regularly to build it into a habit.
Try These Simple Strategies Of Active Listening
Learning to use deep, active listening can profoundly impact your relationship with team members and your performance as a leader. That’s why it is one of the most important skills you can focus on for continuous growth for yourself and your organisation.
Here at Leadership Effect, we offer personalised programs to create high levels of performance within yourself and your team that include skills such as deep active listening and much more. Learn more here.