Leaders Should Listen More and Talk Less

Want to improve your leadership skills? Well, you can start by talking less and listening more. While your oratory skills may impress some, your ability to listen will impress even more. Great leaders understand the importance of surrendering the floor. Unfortunately, most leaders choose to dominate the conversation with rhetoric and fail to engage in proper communication, which requires listening.

Think about it: the smartest guy in the room is almost never the one doing all of the talking. Rather, it’s the person who engages by asking a few relevant questions and then actively listens to what others have to say. While action lies at the core of leadership, leaders who act without listening and understanding rarely achieve their desired outcomes.

In most conversations, people who speak the most often benefit the least, and vice versa. Why is this? Let’s list some of the most obvious reasons why:

  • You may gain valuable insight and information.
  • Knowledge empowers you to make better decisions.
  • You won’t speak out without all of the facts.
  • Co-workers will appreciate being listened to and understood.
  • People will return the courtesy and listen when you do speak.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean you should not voice your opinions—especially if you’re in a leadership role. However, if you spend less time speaking and more time listening, the people you converse with will feel better appreciated and understood and you’ll have less complications when working with others.

According to the Harvard Business Review, there are three levels of listening: internal listening, focused listening, and 360 listening. The latter is what every leader should strive for. With 360 listening, you’re not only listening to what someone is saying, but also how they’re saying it and most importantly, what they’re not saying.

Corporate training can certainly help improve your ability to listen and lead.

Here are some invaluable tips to boost listening skills so you can begin better listening practices today.

Realize It’s Not About You

Rather than focusing on what you’re going to say, shift your focus to what is being said. Many leaders listen simply to have their opinions validated. However, leaders should listen to challenge themselves and learn from others. If you want to be listened to, make it a habit of listening to others and fostering an environment of open communication.

Listen to Others Outside Your Sphere of Influence

Anyone from an intern to an assistant can add value if you take the time to listen. Wisdom, creative ideas or solutions can come from anyone, not just those above you or your peers with similar ranks. Don’t dismiss what someone has to say simply because of their title. Take the time to learn from others with different experiences and perspectives. Only good things can come of it.

Focus on Opportunity

Great listeners listen to both the message and the story behind it. Listening and discovery go hand in hand. By focusing on what new things you can learn, you can impact the present and influence the future.

Look for Nonverbal Cues

Facial expressions, body language, and other actions or inactions can say just as much if not more than verbal communication. People don’t always have to say something in order to communicate. In fact, many people have a difficult time verbalizing disagreement or opposition on a matter, but their nonverbal cues almost always deliver a clear message.

Recognize Others

One of the most important yet overlooked aspects of listening is recognizing the positive contributions of others. If you gain valuable insight and benefit from listening to someone, make sure to thank them. Even if you don’t gain anything particularly valuable from the conversation, thank them for their input. Few things inspire and foster good will more than recognition, so always remember to acknowledge the actions, ideas, energy, and results of others.

On a final note, if you’re ready to test your listening and leadership skills, actively seek out thoughts and opinions that differ from your own. Listen to those who challenge you as this will lead to your own personal and professional development. Great leaders see opportunity in everything.

Great talkers are everywhere, but great listeners and leaders are few and far between. Take these tips and follow the words of Benjamin Franklin who said, “Speak little, do much.” By doing so and furthering your development through corporate training, your leadership skills will grow by leaps and bounds.

By Brigg Patten

About the author

Brigg Patten writes in the business and tech spaces. He’s a fan of podcasts, bokeh and smooth jazz. His time is mostly spent learning the piano and watching his Golden Retriever Julian chase a stick.

  • Denyse Lynch

    Am very happy to read about this “least” developed skill in many people in positions of leadership, management and really all of us involved in interacting with others be it parenting, with our partners, in corporations, health care, NFP, FP’s government etc… In my career I taught “practical applicable communication skills both verbal and my VERY favorite one which was and still is, “listening skills” – active (for comprehension) & interactive (to confirm understanding). Amazing what we can learn from good listening skills in order to: solve problems, participate in meetings, avoid/reduce conflict, negotiating, providing constructive feedback to others, to manage differences, giving presentations, providing exceptional customer service even when we cannot give the client what they want, selling, influencing skills that provide the customer a mutual exchange of value, generating ideas, being innovative, giving instructions. We assume because we can HEAR, we know how to and what to listen for. Same as, because we have the ability to think, we assume we can be good thinkers without learning how to think and what tools we have at our disposal to think. Thank you very much for this article on listening.

  • Rich Mulholland

    I have to say I fundamentally disagree with this premise. I do agree that the listening skill is very important for leaders to master, however that the idea that they should speak less and listen more is just incorrect. Look at the world’s greatest leaders, what do they all have in common? Almost without fail it’s the ability to communicate.