Present Listening: A Critical Leadership Skill

Leading a team in this uncertain and anxious time requires that leaders concentrate on their necessary leadership skills to serve best and lead. One vital leadership skill is present listening. Present listening is a set of intentional listening practices a leader can use, model for, and teach their team members. Honing this skill helps to enhance listening and communication by being entirely present to the speaker.

Present listening is an exceptionally hard skill to learn for three reasons. First is that it is rarely directly taught in high schools and or colleges. Secondly, educational and business gauges success in speaking and answers. Finally, present listening skills are especially hard because of the way we are wired for communication. We speak at 140- 200words per minute; however, we process up to 400 words a minute according to research published in the Harvard Business Review by Wendell Johnson. This means that to listen one must concentrate and slow down to focus. We must present listen. Being present to the speaker and intently listening to understand is a learnable, teachable skill.

Six Practices to Improve Your Leadership by Improving Your Present Listening Skills

1. Be Present by Intention

Commit to being a better listener, a present listener. Have a mindset of being curious and learning and valuing other team members. Reinforce and model this mindset with your team. Set expectations to reinforce present listening. For example, one person speaks at a time, as you can see in the picture. 

2. Be Present by Minimizing Distractions

Put your cell phone,iPad down, and close the laptop. Please focus on the speaker, their words, their nonverbals, and strive to help them feel comfortable and valued. You can see this practice above in the photo.

3. Be Present by Reminding Yourself that LISTEN =SILENT.

Intentionally practice respect by being completely (verbally, physically, and mentally)silent, lean in, make eye contact, and smile everything minds open and calm breathing. The picture above shows these behaviors.

4. Be Present by Asking Open-Ended Questions

A listener can practice present listening using open-ended questions to promote discussion or elaboration. These questions start with who, what, where, and when. These questions are critical to promoting non-judgemental, safe discussion. The leader must pause to respectfully allow the speaker time to process the question and respond thoughtfully. Practicing present listening also includes avoiding closed-ended questions. These questions start with why, could you, should you and would you. These questions can carry a tone of judgment and tension, which can inhibit discussion and creativity. The leader’s use of questions will set the tone and depth of team discussions.

5. Be Present by Asking Clarification Questions

Asking clarification questions help to deepen understanding and demonstrate respect for the speaker and the subject. A question like” can you help me understand more about?” or “please help me with this point.”

6. Be Present by Using Summarizing Statements/Questions

Summarizing statements are used to assure understanding and seek feedback. A summarizing question like “what I heard as major points of this subject are…” A feedback question such as asking, “Am I missing anything.” These two types of questions demonstrate to the speaker that you value their thoughts and work. The aforementioned questions also demonstrate respect. A leader’s intentional use of these two types of questions is an excellent model for those on the team.

We all crave being listened to, valued, and respected by our leaders. The end of most relationships is a lack of listening. Many studies on worker engagement find that team members who feel like others listen to them and value them are more engaged in their work. Present listening practices demonstrate the value and respect we have for the teams you lead and serve. Team members who feel their leader practices present listening will feel safer and valued by the leader and the team. The team can learn and try new approaches. Being valued and listened to can evolve more clarity, creativity, learning and give purposeful direction.

Leaders can learn, practice, and teach present listening. It is intentionally hard work with a huge payback for you as a leader and those you serve. That is the reason present listening is a present to you as a leader and those you lead and serve.

Leadership Questions for you:

1. How good a present listener are you?
2. Can you commit to the six practices of present listening?

John Hackett, Ed. D

John Hackett, Ed. D is a servant leader who helps people and organizations move from where they are to where they want to be. John is an accomplished and experienced coach, trainer, writer, and leader in a variety of educational and other nonprofit and direct sales settings. He is a growing, learning entrepreneur in coaching and training who is passionate about equipping leaders to develop other leaders to serve. John is a certified trainer and coach with the Direct Selling World Alliance. John is a coach for the FUSE Business Training and a member of the John Maxwell team!


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