Robert K. Greenleaf, the founder of the modern servant-leadership movement, once said: "Don't assume, because you are intelligent, able, and well-motivated, that you are open to communication, that you know how to listen."

Is that an assumption you make? Notice how he quickly frames communication as having the ability to listen, not speak.  

With technology and social media ruling our lives, it's increasingly apparent that we are becoming less opportunistic in developing our listening skills, and less socially aware of their effect on business as a competitive advantage.

That's why I firmly believe that listening is not only foundational for effective communication but is also the key to building strong relationships. 

Greenleaf affirmed the strength of a good listener in his legendary essay The Servant as Leader when he said that "only a true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first."

What great listening looks like in action

People with the learned capacity to listen well will notice a difference in how others respond to them. As a leader, it's crucial to develop this area to lead teams more effectively. Here are six ways that good listeners leverage this superpower to achieve results.

1. They have a clearer understanding of what's being said.

Peter Drucker once said, "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." Leaders who master the practice of good listening will be more apt to intuitively understand the other person's story by searching conversations for depth and meaning, digging deeper than casual listeners, and getting to the root of an issue in order to come up with the right solution.

2. They solve problems quicker.

Problems are solved faster if people are encouraged to explain problems and given the freedom to work though solutions out loud before being told what to do. Once you understand what's truly going on on the other side of the fence, and have the other person's needs in mind, the listening has one overarching theme: How can I help the other person? As a leader, listening compassionately at this level is done to clear roadblocks, solve problems, and free people up to do their best work so the business succeeds. 

3. They listen to get constructive feedback.

When was the last time you heard the sentiments of others -- customers or employees -- about how the business is doing? How YOU are doing as a leader? Good leaders accept the humble responsibility of finding out these things by inviting feedback and then listening. Then you can measure progress toward hitting your goals.

4. They listen to learn from others.

Want to hear an insecure leader at work? Easy, just listen for their bragging--a mask for their insecurity. Smart and respected leaders are unassuming and know what they think; they want to know what YOU think by listening intently. Practically speaking, they allow followers the freedom to be part of the conversation and will ask them lots of questions: How is something done? What do they like about it? What did they learn from it? What do they need in order to be better? These leaders may know a lot, but seek to know even more by listening to their tribe.

5. They make fewer mistakes.

Good listening leads to more accuracy in retaining information. You'll remember important facts later on, minimizing the risk of miscommunication and making mistakes.

6. They listen to build trust.

Listening on a deeper level generates respect and trust between speaker and listener. Employees will naturally respond better and with more enthusiasm to managers they believe are listening intently to their needs. But first, a few things need to take place:

  • Giving the speaker your undivided attention by eliminating distractions in the moment. This communicates nonverbally "I am interested in what you have to say."
  • Having open body language and posture
  • Not rushing the conversation
  • Giving the speaker time to think and process his or her thoughts
  • Not interrupting, period. This is especially true for a person who is upset. Allow for ventilation to occur.