Great business leaders have their individual strengths, but one skill they all share is that they are good communicators. And it often begins with being a good listener. It's not about being polite when conversing with someone, but really listening to what people say. This can make you a much more effective business leader.

For example, when you allow people to fully express their ideas and experiences, you learn a lot about them and how they think, which can better inform you as a leader on how to best solve their needs.

Good listeners are excellent problem solvers. They can better identify issues by listening to the problems and issues of clients and team members instead of just guessing or assuming. You can miss important nuggets of information as a business leader when you don't take the time to fully listen to the details or motivation that a prospect, customer, or team member expresses.

Good listeners are also great morale boosters. When you are engaged with people, they notice it. And when you show that you are invested in what they have to say, people are more motivated to work with you.

Of course, strong business listening skills is not something that comes easy for many people. It requires constant practice in order to master. Here are three tips I have successfully used that can help you become a better listener and improve my communication when conducting business:

1. Clear your mind of distractions.

A wandering mind is not present. I have found that it is important to not keep my phone on the table or in eyesight when conversing with people. It's too tempting to get distracted by notifications or alerts, which takes my attention away from the conversation.

I also schedule my day so that I have 5-10 minutes in between meetings to do a mini meditation. I close my eyes and follow my breath by internally saying "in..." when I inhale and "out..." when I exhale. This helps me slow down my thoughts, clear the last meeting from my head, and focus on the next person I will meet with an open and present mind. 

2. Use positive body language.

Listening is more than just listening. You also need to enlist positive body language in order to keep the speaker engaged.

For example, you are much more likely to focus on what that person is saying when you maintain eye contact. Research in 2013 from Quantified Communications, a communications-analytics company in Austin, Texas, suggests you should maintain eye-contact 60 to 70 percent of the time during a conversation in order to make an emotional connection. In comparison, this research also shows that on average adults make eye-contact only 30 to 60 percent of the time when talking. 

It's also important to always face the speaker. It makes sense: When you face your speaker, you give off positive energy that says you are interested in the person. Slowly nod occasionally with your head slightly tilted. This tells the speaker that you are focused on them and interested in what they say.

 3. Let the person do most of the talking.

We miss a lot of information because we are often focused on what we want to say in response. Let people finish their thoughts or points before adding your comments. This will help you stay focused on what you're being told, and you won't miss any key information.

I fall into this trap easily because I'm extroverted and love to brainstorm ideas. What helps me? I take notes while someone talks and write down ideas that come up, so I'll remember them when it's time for me to speak.

Listening is a skill that takes time to develop, so try to practice these tips every day and in different situations. If you feel comfortable, practice them with your co-workers until it feels natural.

Or, record a conversation and listen back to it. See where you could have employed more of these techniques.

Published on: Apr 25, 2018