Effective listening is an essential skill for leaders at all levels of business. Too often, company leaders seem to think they should speak first and listen later, but the leader who knows how to listen well reaps many benefits. In fact, great leaders wait until they have all the facts at their disposal before making decisions. And effective listening is a powerful way to gather facts.

Effective listening compared to merely the appearance of it can be equated to hoovering as opposed to treating problems like crumbs that are swept under a carpet. The latter is easier in the short term, but those unheard problems will mould and fester and will still need to be dealt with six months later.

Information exchange

Listening can lead to the valuable exchange of information. When people feel genuinely listened to, they are much more likely to open up and be authentic. In this way, problems can be honestly aired and solutions agreed upon. Being listened to makes people feel cared for, which not only makes them more likely to offer helpful information but also more likely to listen in return. If leaders have shown that they can listen to the concerns of those who make up their organisation, they are more likely to get a fair hearing themselves. Employees who feel valued are more prepared to listen to and respect their team leaders.

Proactive listening

It is neither desirable nor possible to fake good listening. Great listeners engage in dialogue, use mirroring and clarification. They take note of what is being said and employ nonverbal communication skills such as eye contact, nods and gestures. A leader who lacks these skills may be seen as disinterested and uncaring.

Listening is not only about paying attention when someone speaks. It includes noticing and developing supportive strategies for when someone is not performing as well as usual. It includes being aware, not just of what is said, but the way in which it is said; being aware of body language, energy levels, and even of issues outside of the workplace that may be affecting performance.

Respect and empathy

Listening creates an atmosphere of respect and well-being that engenders stronger working relationships, inspires better performance and creates loyalty.

Empathy has become something of a buzzword, but it’s closely related to good listening skills. The ability to understand other perspectives is essential in building a supportive working environment in which people are motivated to achieve their goals.