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Listening – the secret weapon of good leaders

One very powerful, often underused leadership skill essential for meaningful and useful conversations is listening.

Not the kind of listening that happens whilst we are doing or thinking about other things, nor the kind that we do to be sure that we can respond with our opinion, rebuttal or instruction. Instead, this is a style of listening rooted in paying quality attention to the other person with eyes, ears and heart, creating a connection in which someone feels truly heard.

I call this kind of listening Clean listening – from the Clean Language work of David Grove - which is at the root of the Five-Minute Coach approach.. It requires paying attention to someone’s precise words, gestures and physiology. Most of all it requires not introducing one’s own ideas, assumptions or thoughts into the conversation, just working with what emerges for the speaker.

This quality attention helps people to do their best and most creative thinking. They explore problems, define priorities and design strategies and solutions that they are committed to making happen.

Tips for Clean Listening

  • Play back and reflect the other person’s own words and ask open questions around them.
  • Use silence. Notice if the other person is still thinking – you’ll know as their eyes will be focussed anywhere but at you. Manage your own desire to ‘fill the gaps’ with talk.
  • Don’t jump in with instructions, advice, opinions or ideas. Instead ask questions about their thinking.
  • Stay focused.  Don’t multitask or let your mind wander. Keep a curious mindset to keep your attention on the other person.
  • Watch for non-verbal communications – gestures, movements, where eyes are looking, skin colour changes and what information you can glean about what’s happening for them.

If you want to engage, empower and develop others, pay attention to how much you pay attention. Stop advising, telling and fire-fighting. Start asking, listening and coaching. You’ll find yourself saying less…. and achieving more.

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