Chapter 8 The skilled listener

‘I tried to discover, in the rumour of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony.'

Gustave Flaubert

If there was just one skill for leaders to master it would be this one — the art of listening! This is an activity in which many leaders have plenty of room for improvement. It's a hugely valuable skill to hone in both our professional and personal lives.

Former US secretary of state Dean Rusk said, ‘One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears — by listening to them.' In his book What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith argues that ‘80 per cent of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen'. Goldsmith also emphasises the importance of not interrupting or finishing the other person's sentences, and resisting any temptation to impress them with how smart or funny you are, and of not being distracted by letting your eyes or attention wander. These are great tips for leaders in any context.

Listening is more than hearing; it's being alert to both verbal and nonverbal cues. The skilled listener is attentive to subtle underlying messages and all that is said and not said, noting the language, tone and posture used in delivery.

The skilled listener also listens to and trusts their intuition. Intuition is not blind faith; more often than not it's a leader's experience talking. Important cues to employee disquiet ...

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