We all love the sound of our own voice, but you won't inspire your employees by talking their ear off. Listening is a skill you need to make sure is sharp.

Christine Riordan, a leadership coach and president-elect of Adelphi University, tells Harvard Business Review that listening as a leader is more than a way to get good ideas. "To be able to motivate and inspire others, you need to learn how to listen in both individual meetings and at the group level," she says.

Part of the trick is balancing the time you spend passing on your knowledge with the equally important task of absorbing what others can teach you. "As a leader, you need to have a strong voice and you need to know when it's time to listen," Amy Jen Su, co-owner of executive training and coaching firm Paravis Partners, tells HBR.

If you're a big talker, find out how to improve your listening skills below.

Stop thinking you know it all.

The first step is to humble yourself. No one is saying you're not smart, but there's a lot to be learned by opening yourself up to the knowledge of others. Su says that her most successful clients have refined their listening skills by understanding how important listening is to collaboration: "They recognize their own intellect, but they also recognize that their colleagues are equally smart and have something of value to say." 

Take a look at yourself.

Do you not give a chance for others to talk, or interrupt people once you think you've heard enough? Find out what your bad habits are when it comes to listening and try to break them. Ask your spouse, partner, friends, and co-workers, "How would you describe me as a listener?" If they laugh at the very notion of you as a listener, you have your work cut out for you. Su says she had a client use a "listening stick" with his wife--he couldn't speak until she gave him the stick.

Don't forget your nonverbal cues.

To get the most out of your communications with others, you need to give your full attention. Don't look at your smartphone or computer when people come to talk. Riordan says a big part of listening is not just content, "it's context, too." If you want to be a great listener, make sure your body language and facial cues align with your thoughts. Not only will people enjoy talking with you more, you'll get a lot more out of the conversation if you put down the devices and pay attention. Riordan also says you should slow down when it comes to responding to people: "Avoid the rush to react or contradict."

Verify what you hear.

Many leaders cut off their employees because they assume they know what they will say. But think about being that person you're always cutting off. Riordan says effective listeners "don't make assumptions." Instead, they listen and then go through the content of the conversation to make sure they're clear on everything that's been said.

Published on: Feb 3, 2015