The Power of Active Listening in Leadership

There’s nothing worse than someone talking at you instead of to you; it’s hard to even get a word into the conversation. On the other hand, there’s nothing better than having a good conversation where the exchange of information flows freely between two people and both parties actively listen to each other. This kind of conversation actually creates a very powerful connection and bond where leaders can learn to truly listen to the people they lead.In this post, I want to share with you the power of active listening in leadership.




I have a friend who starts talking as soon as I answer his call. I have to admit, for me, this is one of the most frustrating things a person can do in a relationship. This type of behavior makes me not want to answer the person’s call at all.


Now, in defense of my friend, I know he is a wonderful person, and he would probably take a bullet for me. However, in normal, daily conversations, his behavior usually makes me think he’s not very interested in knowing what’s really going on in my life. Because he doesn’t know how to listen well, it’s hard to have an effective relationship with him.


Do you know anyone like this in your life? Or could it be that this behavior describes you? The truth is that when we do not intentionally listen in our relationships, most of us act like my friend to some degree. Your issues may not be as severe as those of my friend, but you probably struggle to practice active listening at times. Most people do.


In most conversations, we don’t usually even think about what the other person is saying. Most of the time, we think about how we're going to respond when the other person stops talking. We worry more about getting our own point across than hearing what the person has to say. We rarely slow down to just listen. We seldom use the true power of active listening in our conversations.


When we avoid using active listening, we miss a huge opportunity as leaders. Active listening can be the single most powerful tool in any leader’s toolbox. It’s not even possible to show empathy without actively listening. Trust is so much easier to achieve on a team when a leader has good listening skills. Good leadership and influence are hard to achieve without trust.


When you practice active listening, it’s important to listen for two things: content and emotion. When listening for content, try to understand what story the person is telling you and why they are telling you that story. When listening for the emotion that the person is expressing, try to figure out what type of emotion the person is experiencing in that moment. Is it frustration, anger, joy, or something else?


After you effectively listen for both content and emotion, state your observations to the person. Doing this will allow them to feel empathy from you. They will believe you understand them and usually begin to trust you in that moment. You will then be able to grow the relationship in a deeper way.


These steps may sound simple, but many people don’t practice them. Although it sounds easy, active listening is actually a great deal of work, and, for most people, active listening takes too much work. I want you to understand though that you don’t have to engage in intense, active listening all of time. That would take way too much energy, time, and effort for any of us. It would be almost impossible to listen that intently all of the time. Honestly, you don’t have to practice active listening constantly to be an effective leader. You simply need to be able to engage in active listening when it’s needed and know how to actively listen when you need to.


If you are in an intense conversation with a person you lead and that person’s emotions are out of control, you may struggle to know what to say in the situation. Active listening will help you connect with the person in a very powerful, life-giving way. It will make a huge difference in calming that person down and also help resolve the issue they’re facing. Active listening will allow the person to feel empathy from you.


People want to be understood in all relationships. When you truly and actively listen to a person, they’ll feel understood and connected with you in a way that’s not possible without active listening. Going forward, I challenge you to practice active listening while it’s fresh on your mind. Next time you’re with a close friend, ask them this question, “Can you tell me something you’re grateful for?” While they’re giving you their answer, listen for the content and details of their story. Listen for the emotions that they are feeling, then share what you hear with the person. When you learn to actively listen, you will positively impact the conversations you have and grow the relational connections with the people you lead.




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