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Are You Listening? (Or Just Thinking About What You’re Going To Say Next)?

Research shows that we retain between 25% to 50% of what we have heard. 
As leaders, we think we need to know all of the answers all of the time and do a lot of the talking. But bear in mind that your team only remembers half of what you’ve said!


Listening is a critical skill, and like any skill, needs to be practiced.

Nancy Kline in her book “Time to Think” describes it perfectly. We listen to interrupt, we listen to tell our story (which is always better than yours), we listen to disagree, contradict and to add on our experiences.

Poor listeners get distracted by their own thoughts or by what’s going on around them, and they have already formed their responses before the other person has finished speaking.

Because of this, they miss crucial information, often make poor decisions based on half-heard or misunderstood data, and very often come across as over bearing because they don’t encourage the input of others.


Decision making is of a higher quality since the leader has understood the complexity of the situation in front of them more fully


Good listeners, on the other hand, enjoy better relationships because they fully engage in what other people are saying. Their team members are also more productive, because they feel they can discuss problems easily, and talk through solutions.

Decision making is of a higher quality since the leader has understood the complexity of the situation in front of them more fully, and takes the time to understand concerns and potential solutions.

In so doing, they invite others into the decision making process and their teams and colleagues feel more empowered.

Improving your listening skills requires the Emotional Intelligence competence of Self-Awareness. Even if you already think you’re a good listener, check yourself against these tips below and make sure you are.


1.Pay Attention

I know it sounds obvious but you would be amazed at how your attention can be easily distracted. When it is, you lose track of the conversation, miss part of the message or misunderstand information. 

Put aside anything that will distract you during planned meetings.


Look at the Speaker

Again, it sounds obvious, but have you ever had a conversation with someone who constantly looks over your shoulder at everyone else in the room? Annoying isn’t it? Looking at someone shows you care about them, what they are saying and you are taking in what they are imparting to you.


Don’t Mentally Prepare an Answer

We do this constantly and if we are thinking as the person is talking then we are not fully engaged. Wait until they finish speaking to prepare your response.


Watch For What Is Not Being Said

You can only do this if you are fully engaged. Notice the body language – is the speaker uncomfortable, upset, angry? Notice the words they use – why did they use that particular word do you think?



2.Show You’re Listening

It’s easier for someone to share their conversation with you if you are open to it, so give them some encouragement to continue speaking.

• Nod occasionally.

• Smile and use other facial expressions.

• Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.

• Make small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.


3. Provide Feedback

Our personal assumptions and judgements can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to ask questions and repeat back what you have heard.

• Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…,” is a good way to reflect back and ensure you are clear on the message.

• Ask open questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say…” or “tell me more about….”

• Summarise the speaker’s comments periodically.


Don’t interrupt – it wastes time and frustrates the speaker


• Don’t interrupt – it wastes time and frustrates the speaker. Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.

• Be candid, open, and honest in your response but not blunt or hurtful.

• Assert your opinions respectfully. If you find yourself reacting emotionally to what is being said, take a breath. Try to understand why you are reacting this way and try to keep the response at a level above that if possible.

• If you must express emotion around the topic, don’t react emotionally, but describe how you feel. “I feel very angry that you have not brought this matter to me before, and I would like to try to solve it with you now”, for example.

• Treat the other person in a way that you think he or she would want to be treated.

• Keep the objective in mind – what do you want the outcome of the conversation to be.


As a leader, it’s not always about telling everyone what to do, but more about continually learning


Remember that good listening is critical to building good relationships in the workplace, whether it be with customers, suppliers, employees, peers, bosses or anyone else you interact with on a daily basis.

Keep practising the tips above and you will find that your listening skills improve and that you are having much more productive conversations. 

As a leader, it’s not just about telling everyone what to do; it’s about taking in the information you need to continually learn about the business and the people you work with.

To be a great boss you must listen better – you’ll be surprised at what you might hear!


For a masterclass on building your Emotional Intelligence see these other great articles from Barbara:

From Wallflower to Sunflower: A Journey in Self Confidence

Recognising Your Triggers to Avoid An Emotional Response

Are You Fooling Yourself About Who You Really Are? The Keys To Self Awareness

4 Ways To Ruin Business (and Romantic) Relationships


About the Author

Barbara Nugent

Barbara Nugent has over 20 years experience in large organisations, leading teams and holding senior management positions. She is passionate about helping others uncover and grow their personal and professional potential.

If you would like to improve your Emotional Intelligence, have a team workshop, have Barbara speak at your organisation or would like to know about one-to-one coaching programmes, contact or visit

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