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To Be a Better Leader, Become a Better Listener

Here's how to improve your listening skills for more effective conversations with employees and customers.

Why hire talented people and not fully utilize them?

When you start a business, you don't need to know how to do absolutely everything. For example, if you are opening an event planning company, you don't freak out because you don't know graphic design. You just need to know what looks good and then hire a talented specialist to design all of your invitations. Your role as the boss is to oversee a bunch of specialists who are the best in their niche.

And one of the most crucial ways of getting the most out of your specialists is by listening to them. After all, they're the ones in the trenches day in and day out. Your job is to let them do their best work by giving them the support they need. You can't do that unless you know what they are dealing with.

Great listeners make the best leaders for a variety of reasons. CEOs who listen to their staff are able to:

  1. anticipate potential problems and fix them,
  2. show their staff that they are cared for, which builds trust and loyalty,
  3. open creative channels by giving informed advice for better productivity, and
  4. maintain an efficient line of communication, so the business runs more smoothly.

No one knows this better than CEO confidante and advisor Dr. Mark Goulston. In his book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, Dr. Goulston outlines the secret to using better listening to promote stronger relationships. Here are his top tips on how to improve your listening today:

Use Conversation Deepeners

After someone finishes speaking, think of something they said that had increased inflection and respond with either: "Say more about (whatever their increased inflection was)." That elicits more emotional and psychological investment and interest in the conversation.

Kick "But" With the Impossibility Question

Ask one of your employees somewhere in the conversation, "Might I ask you a hypothetical question?" Hopefully, they'll be okay with that, even intrigued. Then say, "What would rapidly increase our progress and success but is impossible for our company to do?"

Asking this way bypasses your making a suggestion only to be met with responses like "We can't do that" or "That won't work," which drag the conversation into negativity and excuse-making. Letting employees tell you, up-front, what, if it were not impossible, would be a big help, gets around those obstructions. Then follow up with, "I understand, but what might we do that could make it possible?"

Fill in the Blanks

When you ask someone a question, it can subconsciously remind her of many times in their life when she was put on the spot and didn't like it. If you invite her to fill in the blanks instead, it feels more collaborative. So, rather than saying, "What are your goals for this quarter?," say, "Your goals for this quarter are..." People are more likely to fill in the blank, because they have joined in the sentence with you.

Ask: "How Can I Be Better?"

This takes advantage of focusing on the future rather than talking about something after the fact, which even when positive can be taken in a negative fashion. To get the most from this, you can say, "Going forward, I would like to be a better boss from your point of view. To do that, what positive thing can I start doing consistently and what negative thing should I stop doing completely that would cause you to feel that way?"

Take It All the Way to No

Clients may put you off without actually saying no. If you don't hear the word no, maybe you haven't asked for it enough. Sometimes, in business, no means maybe. So always ask a follow-up question. For example, if someone tells you they're not interested in your software, try saying, "I either pushed too hard or failed to address something that was important to you, didn't I?" When they answer, you've reopened the discussion, leaving the way clear to a yes.

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Last updated: Aug 10, 2014

MOLLY REYNOLDS

Molly Reynolds has a strong passion for helping creative innovators see their start-ups fully realized. She gives regular marketing lectures and seminars for universities, professional associations, and business summits--helping entrepreneurs fine-tune their skills for creatively selling their product and themselves.




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