We hear a lot about leaders who are great speakers. Who can inspire through their words, capture the attention of a large audience, or engage others through a compelling story. But another leadership skill that is just as important – if not more so – is the ability to listen. Leaders who demonstrate to their employees and their teams that they listen – really listen – build trust, promote engagement, and inspire loyalty.

Studies show that we spend about 80% of our waking hours communicating in one form or another. This breaks down to about 9% writing, 16% reading, 30% speaking and 45% listening. You’d think, given that in theory we spend almost half of our communication time listening, we’d all be better at it. But here’s the thing. Are we really listening?

Stephen Covey famously said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Think about the last time you were in a one-on-one meeting with an employee. Maybe they were seeking your advice about an issue – a deadline that was likely to slip or a customer complaint – how much time did you spend listening to their description of the issue before you gave them a solution? Did you ask probing questions (and listen to the answers) to ensure you (and they) fully understood the impact of the issue? Did you ask for their ideas on solving the issue (growth opportunity!)? Did you ask, “what do you think we should do?”

Turning this I’ve-got-a-problem-and-need-a-solution meeting into more of a conversation by asking questions and listening to the answers is a great way to invite a deeper dialogue that may result in new ideas and insight. Plus, employees feel valued when they’re listened to. And when employees feel valued they’re more likely to be engaged and loyal.

In her book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, Judith Glaser discusses the importance of leaders developing their “conversational intelligence” by

  • Listening more than talking (75% listening, 25% speaking)
  • Asking probing questions
  • Choosing positive, more expressive words
  • Paying attention to non-verbal behaviors
  • Being humble and approachable

Here are some additional tips that will help you be a better listener.

  • Eliminate distractions. Close your computer and put away your phone.
  • Focus on the speaker. Turn off your mental to do list.
  • Don’t interrupt. It’s rude.
  • Withhold judgment. Let the speaker finish. Ask for clarification if needed before responding.
  • Pay attention to what’s not being said. Their body language, facial expressions.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”  – Bryant McGill