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Listen to Lead: How can practicing active listening make you a better leader?

Active listening with Bailey and Annika

In many ways, the skills that make a great collaborator, communicator and leader are the same today as they ever were. And according to Marcel Schwantes, contributing editor at Inc, the skill that might be the most important sign of a strong leader is often overlooked: active listening.

We gained a lot in our transition to a more flexible and hybrid working model over the last several years. Where previously teams might have struggled to communicate and collaborate across geographies and work arrangements, many have now gotten surprisingly good at working together and accomplishing big things – often with little or no actual face-to-face interaction.

While this new – and still evolving – working reality has some clear benefits, we also know that there are times when it makes sense to “come out from behind our screens,” whether that means setting up time to meet in person with colleagues or business partners or simply to make a phone call to hammer out the details of a decision one-on-one. Knowing when to take that extra step to initiate a more high-touch interaction is a core skill in our new world of work.

More than just biding your time

What is “active listening?” It means giving all of your attention and interest to another person. It also means listening with your whole body – leaning in, nodding, all of those indications that you are fully tuned-in. What active listening isn’t is biding your time while another person is speaking, or simply formulating your next response.

Schwantes shares research suggesting that during a 10-minute conversation with a coworker, most of us are paying attention to less than half of what they say. This inattention denies our colleagues a basic level of respect.

Hey leader: It’s not all about you.

Perhaps as importantly, being a bad listener tends to indicate a lack of strong leadership skills. This can feel counterintuitive; there’s traditionally been a sense that a strong leader should be the person in any interaction who spends the most time speaking. The problem is that this kind of leader tends to prioritize their own perspective rather than allowing space for other points of view.

While Schwantes focuses on active listening as a leadership trait, it’s clearly important for internal communicators as well. Businesses need more than just wordsmiths; they need communication partners who truly understand their needs. Active listening creates that understanding

Authentic Silence Quote

Remember: We’re all leaders, whether we lead a team or not.

At Pivot Strategies, our clients depend on our leadership to help them drive change and clarify complex messages for their internal audiences. Whether they’re meeting remotely or in person, our consultants have a proven track record of giving clients the benefit of active listening to ensure we’re providing the informed support they need to help them succeed.

About the Author

Jon HilgersSenior Communications Consultant

Jon joined Pivot with 25+ years of technology, operations and change management internal communications experience. Jon is a recognized storyteller who uses focused listening and a persistent curiosity to understand business needs and build communications that deliver results. He is skilled at translating esoteric or arcane language for general consumption, and he has specific experience communicating to drive behavior change. Jon has extensive experience in financial services and held a Series 7 certification while working in the industry.

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