The Leader’s Edge: Listening

It is said we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening is definitely a skill and not one we are usually taught in school. And, often we have few examples of people who have genuinely listened to us.

Genuine listening in a business meeting.Let’s look at a few seemingly simple principles guaranteed to help you have more meaningful conversations and build trust. These skills are important to use in all relationships at home, with friends and at work.

Remove distractions.

The first rule to genuine listening is to put away any devices and turn off your phone before you begin a conversation. Be as authentically present as you can. If you have to answer your phone, it is helpful to name that ahead of time.

Focus on what the person is saying.

In conversations, we are often so focused on our own point, or our next appointment, that we don’t actually hear what the person in front of is trying to convey. To that end, we hear the voice inside our own head as well as the voice that is speaking aloud. With this, we miss a lot of what is being said. Become aware of the two voices and practice focusing on the person who is speaking.

Be patient.

Just listen. Allow the other person to complete their thought. It sometimes helps me to take a few breaths and just be curious. Give the conversation some time and space. This process actually takes less time by the clock than if I keep interrupting to make my point.

Let the person know you get what they are saying.

Show you are listening by paraphrasing what you heard. This is not repeating exactly what they said but saying a brief synopsis in your own words. When you do this effectively, you can watch the other person relax.

Show that you understand what they are saying. If someone says to me, “I get your point,” and then jumps into their point of view, I don’t feel heard at all. Try instead to name something specific that conveys your understanding, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.


Find some part of what the person is saying that you find interesting and indicate your interest, even with a smile or a nod or a few words of acknowledgment.

Show empathy.

Walk in their shoes for a moment. How would I feel in this situation? Genuine empathy goes a long way. I don’t have to agree with them to show that I get what they are saying and I can imagine how that would feel for them.

Be respectful.

Be careful of judgmental language or evaluative comments. Things that are insulting, pejorative language, particularly that highlight cultural, educational or personality differences, shut down conversation and destroy trust.

Hold appropriate boundaries.

In the listening we need to be careful to hold boundaries. Even when tempted, it is not helpful to talk about one team member to another. If one of your reports begins to gossip, try to gently bring them back. Not ignoring what they say, but not allowing their comments to steer the conversation, either. Always bring the subject back to the situation at hand.

Begin to remove “trigger” words from your conversations.

There are certain words that make a conversation turn into a nightmare, or at least an unproductive encounter. Learning to steer clear of them will work magic in having meaningful, productive conversations.

  • You. The word “you” naturally makes the other person feel blamed and become defensive. Try beginning the conversation with something like: “I need, I notice, I would like, It would be helpful if, etc.” This puts the conversation in a positive light and invites discussion.
  • Always. The worst is “You always…” two conversation stoppers together. As we said, “you” creates defensiveness and makes the other person think of the one time when that wasn’t true, instead of focusing on the issue at hand.
  • Never. This follows “always” for the same reason. It is a distraction. Just talk about your experience and ask for what you want clearly and in a non-blaming way.
  • But. We often say something like, “It’s true that you did what you said…but…” and we proceed to tell the person the negative thing we want them to change. The use of “but” negates the positive thing we were trying to convey. Give the positive feedback in a genuine way that can be heard. Then, make your point without discounting the positive.

Most importantly, regardless of what is said, slow down, pause, take a breath (or several) and listen. We all want to be heard, feel heard, know we are heard more than almost anything.

Practicing these few basics will allow you to be more authentically present, show respect and deeply listen. These skills will go a long way toward creating a culture of trust in your workplace (and in any relationship!)

This article was written by Marti Glenn, Ph.D., Ryzio Clinical Director