Listen Up

Cultivating listening skills for better leadership and communication

Being listened to has become a rare and precious commodity and the art of listening a rare and precious gift. Now more than ever, it seems, technology and other distractions fight for our attention. In the context of business, failing to cultivate listening skills is detrimental, especially as you move up the career ladder into leadership positions.

In the 2013 CEO Performance Evaluation Survey conducted by The Miles Group and Stanford University, listening was one of the least-mentioned skills attributed to CEOs. Stephen Miles, founder and chief executive of The Miles Group, said along with mentoring, developing talent and conflict management, listening “should be at least in the top five of a CEO’s strengths, because they are critical components to excelling in the CEO role.”

Most of us do way more talking than we do listening. Why? Multitasking, thinking about what we will say next, nervous energy, a desire to direct and be seen as in command are all possibilities,. This can, of course, lead to lapses in communication and can affect the way we are perceived by our managers and peers. In my experience, good leaders take a genuine interest in what others have to say. They are naturally curious and want to learn more about the way other people do things and the way their minds work. Great leaders go a bit further by spending a lot more time asking questions than making their own thoughts and knowledge known to the room.

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In “Leadership is a Conversation,” a piece by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind in the June 2012 issue of the “Harvard Business Review,” the authors write, “Leaders who take organizational conversation seriously know when to stop talking and start listening.” Groysberg and Slind maintain that the “command-and-control approach to management has in recent years become less and less viable,” and that corporate communication must become more dynamic, sophisticated and — they emphasize — conversational.

It’s not necessary, however, to aspire to or be in a leadership position to cultivate listening skills and bring a more conversational approach to workplace communication. How much would you learn about the people around you, your industry and the world if you did more listening than talking and if you asked questions?


Can You Hear Me Now?

4 ways to amp up your listening skills

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It takes practice to become a good listener. Each day, pick one of the tips below to focus on, then work on implementing all of them in the coming weeks. You’ll be a listening pro in no time.

1. Take notes: Especially in meetings, write down the most important information. Studies show that people who take notes by hand retain the information better than those who use a computer or electronic device.

2. Ask questions: It’s a great way to learn, clarify, dig deeper, and to be and stay more engaged in the conversation.

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3. Pay attention to non-verbal cues: Body language and facial expressions are often a window into whether or not someone understands the information being presented and how they are feeling about it.

4. Summarize: Repeat what you’ve heard and ask the speaker if it’s correct. This assures the other party that you were listening or can quickly clear up a misunderstanding.

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to

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