The Attentive Leader: Listen More, Talk Less

by | Jan 26, 2022 | Personal Growth, Professional Growth

“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

-Fran Lebowitz

Leading Yourself

Think of the big talkers in your life. Spouse, partner, boss, or co-worker. They may be eloquent and inspiring, or just fill space through the gift of gab. Their words often dominate the conversation, and impact what happens next.

You often wait for your turn to be heard, and the opportunity to talk.

The author Kate Murphy in her book, You’re Not Listening, describes most of our conversations as a “dialogue of the deaf,” talking over each other. “Value is placed on what you project, not what you absorb.”

We tend to project a great deal. One reason is our professional rewards are based on what comes out of our mouth, instead of what goes in our ears. Great presentation! You were very participative at the meeting! What we don’t frequently hear is recognition for our listening skills.

The solution to more effective conversations – listen more, talk less. Taking the time to absorb what we are hearing. Avoiding the peril of TALK and LISTEN first, and only later ABSORB.

Three keys to becoming a more attentive leader:

Breaking Bad Listening Behavior

Poor listening skills do not make you a bad person – they can make you an ineffective leader. Three habits to break:

  • Interrupting
  • Mentally preparing your response while someone is talking
  • Not confirming what you heard to make sure you understand

Temperature Checks

Active listening requires us to check in with our audience. After a few minutes talking, take a temperature check by asking:

  • Does this make sense?
  • Do you have any questions?
  • What do you think?

Periodic checks make sure the conversation is moving forward with clarity and mutual understanding, which leads to support and effective execution.

Inquire v Interrogate

Get to know the other person through curiosity and being attentive to clues. Listen for familiarity:

  • What do you have in common?
  • Resist the urge to size them up, comparing their life to yours
  • Suspend the instinct to talk about yourself – impress by talking less.

Great leaders are masters at paying attention to what is said, and what is not said. They engage their mind through active listening, manage their vocal impulses, and invite others to a two-way conversation. Don’t leave others waiting – listen more and talk less.

Leading Your Team

Many leaders I coach are looking for ideas to build their direct reports into a high performing team. Each month I will share a resource to unit meetings and individual, 1-1 sessions.

An excellent article on the importance of difficult conversations.

Leadership Book Resources

My January reading list:

  • Atomic Habits James Clear — An excellent book on building personal and professional habits through small improvements, to change your behavior leading to lasting results
  • Chasing History Carl Bernstein — A biography from an excellent newspaper reporter, whose investigative reporting resulted in the resignation of President Nixon resignation. A story of perseverance and a lifelong commitment to professional growth.
  • The Way the Word is Passed Clint Smith — A journey across historical sites in America depicting how African American slavery has been commemorated. The message being we have been deceived, missing the true legacy of slavery. A reckoning that can help us better understand our past, and how to pass the word on.