As a leader, are you actively listening? Five quick tips to make sure you are
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As a leader, are you actively listening? Five quick tips to make sure you are

June 7, 2022 | Updated on February 1, 2024

In early April, I joined about 25 other supervisors at the Partnership for a training opportunity called Crucial Conversations. The five-module course is based on a book with the same title that has sold millions of copies and provides people with the tools for communicating effectively when the stakes are high.

One of the modules focused on listening. During the session, Virginia Hill, a senior facilitator at the Partnership, asked us this question: “As a leader, are you listening?”

“And I don’t mean just listening, I mean really listening?”

Virginia was referring to active listening, a state of mind that goes beyond simply hearing words. Instead, you make a conscious effort to observe everything happening in a conversation, taking in the words, tone, inflection, body language and facial expressions of the person speaking. You’re not thinking of the next thing you want to say, what emails you need to respond to or your next meeting. You’re entirely present.

Why should you actively listen?

When you actively listen, you take in the whole picture of a conversation rather than just the words spoken. And doing so can help you build connections with others, whether they are direct reports or your own supervisor. These stronger connections can lead to better engagements and strengthen bonds with your teammates—all good things, right?

How can you actively listen?

Most resources suggest that to actively listen, you should:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Observe your own thoughts, but don’t prioritize them.
  • Respond with nods and nonverbal gestures.
  • Paraphrase what you hear.
  • Ask follow-up questions, as appropriate.

A number of resources offer guidance on active listening, like this one from Positive Psychology. You can also read “Crucial Conversations” to learn more about listening and for tips on identifying when a conversation you’re having becomes “crucial.”

No matter the resource you read, remember that practice is most important. Practice. Practice. Practice. Just like any skill, the more you practice active listening, the better you’ll be at it.

Becoming a better active listener also means you will develop skills in all four areas of the Partnership’s Public Service Leadership Model, which strives to set a new standard for effective federal leadership.

When you actively listen, you improve your emotional intelligence and become more self-aware. You also do a better job of engaging others, which can help you lead change and achieve results within your organization. All of that means you, your team and your agency is better serving the public.

All it takes is actively listening.

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