How Leaders Should Listen

By | February 27, 2019

[February 27, 2019] A few years ago, I attended a dinner to honor a good friend of mine who had just retired as our city coroner. As I made my way inside the restaurant to speak with as many folks as possible, I stopped to chat with our State’s U.S. Senator. As one of several politicians there, I was curious if my friend had talked to him about upcoming legislation affecting the medical profession. The Senator said, matter-of-factly, that he was there to talk, not to listen.

I learned a long time ago that politicians are often in the talk mode, not the listening mode. I decided to hear him out anyway. He spoke for several minutes about the special challenges of the state; budget priorities, pending legislation, and the internal drama of being an “important” member of society. In short, he talked about the stuff the average voter, like me, don’t care much about.

Leaders must know how to listen; they listen to understand. And that listening cannot be selective or corrupted by external or internal influences that we are all guilty of having. Leaders live in a high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world where communication can be difficult and frustrating. This reminded me of an article in Forbes magazine I had read that addressed some of the topics I wanted to write about today. It took me a little time on the Internet, but I found it (see link here).

The articles’ author, Nancy F. Clark, does a good job of giving us the classic means to good listening. And yes, everything she writes about is right on target. For example, she discusses that the listener should face the speaker, maintain eye contact, be attentive, keeping an open mind, ask questions only to ensure understanding, etc. I’m glad I was able to highlight her works here in my leadership blog.

“The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.” – Carl Rogers, American psychologist

What Carl Rogers was getting at, was that one of the best ways for people to truly listen is by methodically summarizing what the other person has said. This allows the speaker to say whether they understand the summary and make changes/corrections to that summary. In this way, the listener is better able to understand (something very difficult to do), eliminates straw-man ideas, and it can help the speaker better articulate what they mean.

Leaders can listen and, of course, should do so with a practiced ear. But it takes effort and time; something leaders often fail at doing.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

23 thoughts on “How Leaders Should Listen

  1. Martin Shiell

    Another good article to go with my lunch and to find little nuggets of sage advice. I always knew that leaders should listen. The technique of summarizing and letting the speaker comment and make corrections on your summary has been around for a while. Thanks for bringing it back into vogue.

    1. Doug Smith

      I agree Martin that this particular technique of ‘summarizing’ and then letting the speaker comment is a good one. You can read a lot about ‘how to listen’ in many many articles but few talk about this specifically or it’s just an afterthought.

  2. Wilson Cox

    Socialist don’t listen, say they care but don’t, and tell us what to do because they think they have the solution. Real leaders do listen and care. Huge difference in outcome.

  3. Big Al

    Keep the great articles coming our way. This one was one of my favorite this month.

  4. Gil Johnson

    Talking about politicians and not listening to what their constituents have to say; they are all over immigration, LGBT rights, global warming, etc. Yet, surveys by some of the big guys say that none of these rates high on what the American people want. Go figure.

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Yeah, why is it that politicians and spouses don’t listen when you talk to them. They just nod their heads like they hear and understand but are really clueless about what you’re telling them.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      Leader cat-fight: “Ivanka Trump challenges Ocasio-Cortez platform, says Americans don’t want ‘guaranteed minimum’. Pass the popcorn.

  5. Lynn Pitts

    Thanks for another great article. I sent it to many of my friends and even some of them wrote back that they actually learned something. Wow, nice of them!

  6. Len Jakosky

    The latest bugaboo of the Democrats in the US congress is gun control. The problem is that they don’t listen to the people of the US. How do I know that? Simple, there is a Constitutional Amendment on the right to keep and bear arms, yet they see this (in their minds) as dangerous. So, the US Constitution makes us dangerous? Rhetorical question.

  7. Max Foster

    Thanks for getting me to think about some important ideas. Communication is difficult. The faint of heart are not going to make it. That is why even the dumbest politicians can talk a mile a minute. I was watching the news last night when a reporter asked a serious (and not too difficult) question of Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand. She would not stop talking and, of course, never answered the question. Time was up so the reporter just said, “hope to have you back so you can answer some questions.”

    1. Eric Coda

      Lots of real lame-brained politicians lining up to be the next US president. I hope the Democrats field a better group and that there is no more putting their foot on the scale for the one their party wants to get the nomination.

    2. Mark Evans

      This is why parents are important … two parents and yes, male and female … and both who are willing to be good people. That is how we get good kids that eventually grow up to be worhty adults.

  8. Janna Faulkner

    I think you hit the proverbial nail on it head when you said that learning to listen takes “effort and time; something leaders often fail to do.” Leaders are too often in a big rush to get things done and so the little things that matter a lot are often overlooked or, worse, forgotten. I rate this article a 10 out of 10.

    1. Danny Burkholder

      This is why I keep coming back here. Like others I see post nearly every day, that shows me that there is a dedicated reader base.

  9. Anita

    Loved the quote by Congressman Roy T. Bennett. Interjecting these quotes helps me better understand the topic at hand.

  10. Fred Weber

    “How leaders should listen?” is ALWAYS. They should listen as much as possible to understand so that they can do the most good for their organization and for those in it.

  11. Army Captain

    Really good article today, thank you General Satterfield. A pleasure to read your blog.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      Yes, another worthwhile article to go along with my coffee and my dog sitting beside me this morning. I have learned, however, that I drink my coffee only after reading the comments. Sometimes some of the commenters write such crazy and humorous stuff that I laugh big time.

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