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How to use your listening style to be a better leader

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“I feel like I’m running on fumes,” my colleague Sandra said with a laugh.

It was my first year building my startup from the ground up, and instead of reading between the lines, I smiled back and said, “I hear you. Have you tried a daily exercise routine to give you more energy?”

Sandra just smiled politely and walked away.

That was a pivotal moment for me to realize that communicating isn’t about having a handy reservoir of solutions up your sleeve every time someone shares something they’re going through.

I’ve made a lot of missteps in the last 16 years of running my business, but one of the most important solutions has been to learn my listening style and help me build better relationships. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over a decade later that I hope can help you avoid making the same mistakes.

Related: The Art of Active Listening Requires You to Leave Your Ego Behind

Why understanding your listening style is critical to achieving conversation goals

While most of us as leaders have good intentions in our interactions, we often fail to meet another person’s needs or address their underlying concerns. According to three researchers who prescribe Harvard Business Review, “Learning to listen well starts with understanding what kind of listener you are.”

The researchers outline four different styles to help you determine where you fall:

  • The critical listener listens with the intention of judging what the other person is saying and the person himself.
  • The relational listener really wants to connect and understand the emotions behind another person’s words.
  • The Analytical Listener aims to see a person’s message from a point of finding solutions (I often fall into this category).
  • The task-oriented listener cares most about efficiency and getting all the relevant facts together.

In their story, the researchers concluded that “developing the ability to dynamically switch between these styles can lead to impactful conversations by matching the speaker’s needs with the most appropriate listening technique.”

I know it has helped me both personally and professionally to hone my style and adapt to others.

Related: How To Harness The Power Of Communication When Meeting Challenges

Remember to focus your attention on the other person

Keep your focus on the speaker, not your direct response. As tempting as interjecting is (and we’re all a little guilty of that), it’s not productive or polite.

Listening for the purpose of taking my attention away from myself has benefited me in many areas of my life. It has helped me better understand my children and given me the tools to communicate better with my colleagues and friends. “We often assume that intervening with our own personal stories is an empathetic and relationship-building move, but it precludes hearing the other person’s entire message,” the HBR researchers write.

In other words, if a team member comes to you with a problem, don’t immediately try to share your own experiences who went through something similar – this will bring the conversation back to you. Instead, pay close attention to what they are trying to convey and try to understand the meaning behind their words.

Listening helps build trust

“Listening isn’t just about getting new information,” writes londonbusinessblog.com contributor Anna Johansson. “It’s also a useful indicator of the health of your relationships.”

Something important to me in creating a culture of openness is to sit down with my employees individually and really listen to their thoughts, ideas and opinions. I’ve seen how important this has been for creating strong connections. And Johansson agrees with me. “Doing this regularly will help you build a better rapport with all of your employees. They’ll trust you more and know you value their ideas, keeping them committed to you and your company.”

It all comes down to making the other person feel valued.

Related: The 3 Skills You Need to Build Better Customer Relationships

Listening comes down to awareness

I’ve now spent over a decade sharpening and refining the way I communicate, and what I’ve learned is this: good listening is one of your greatest resources to create a thriving culture and business growth.

When people feel heard and seen, they are more productive, motivated and feel free to share more openly. All of this ultimately affects your success, but it requires intention and effort.

Try to understand your listening style and increase your awareness of how to make it work for you.

As the HBR researchers recommend, “Taking a few seconds to pause and think before an automatic response can help reveal a more subtle, important opportunity.” In my humble opinion, this means that we should pause before providing immediate feedback. We need to be aware of what the other person’s conversation goals are – and yes, this means reading between the lines.

For me, this meant asking them questions rather than giving unsolicited advice or personal anecdotes.

The bottom line: always be willing to adapt

“Experimenting how we listen strengthens our active collaboration in conversations,” the HBR co-authors write. “It expands the space for others to reveal what really matters to them and can be even more efficient if we can get to the heart of the matter more consciously.”

As an londonbusinessblog.com and CEO of hundreds of employees, I have found this to be true.

Even if we start a conversation thinking it’s about one thing, it can actually be about something completely unrelated. In the case of my colleague Sandra, who said she was walking on fumes, it reflected an underlying concern about burnout, not just a little tired of a project. And these are things that we as leaders need to address in the right way.

To solve problems, we need to have a good understanding of how we build relationships.

Related: Why Good Listening Is a Critical Skill for Founders and Entrepreneurs

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