Active listening is one of the most valuable tools in a leader’s toolbox.

Active listening is when one elicits content from another person, gaining their information, skills, perspective, opinion, emotion. Active listening empowers other people, making them feel valued – as in fact they are by a leader who employs the skill of active listening.

At its best, active listening is used in a conversation or discussion, with one or more people.

Questions are one key tactic used by active listeners – asking people to “say more about that” and “keep going, what’s behind that?” 

Mirroring is another essential method, where the active listener repeats back what they heard the other person say, as in “So I hear you saying [repeat back verbatim what they said]. Did I get that right?” The last phrase – a question (or tactic #1) – allows the person to clarify or elaborate on what they said.

Why would you want to be an active listener? To tap the best in your team and all the people around you.  Active listening conveys deep interest in the other person’s ideas and thoughts. It creates a fertile ground for creativity, establishes a welcoming environment for full participation, and allows the alchemy of a whole being more than the sum of its parts to yield great solutions and amazing results.

Oh, as a leader who uses active listening, you need to accompany it by two things: reward people who step forward.

  • Give them recognition, visibility, credit – instead of grabbing it for yourself.  Idea plagiarism is the act of a small, insecure person – and that’s not a leader.
  • Always build on their ideas rather than knocking them down. Once knocked down, someone will be shy of stepping forward again.

Here are some ideas for how to develop your listening skills, from a 1983 book:

Ways to Improve Listening

  • Stop talking.
  • Concentrate.
  • Work at listening (be active; don’t expect listening to be automatic).
  • Exercise your mind (don’t dismiss what seems difficult.
  • Listen for ideas (find central themes).
  • Take notes.
  • Hold your fire (reserve judgment until message is complete).
  • Resist distractions.
  • Capitalize on the fact that thought is faster than speech. (We speak at 125 words per minute and think at 400 to 800 word per minute.)

**From Effective Listening: Key to Your Success. Stell, Barker, and Watson. New York: Random House, 1983.