Why Listening is THE Leadership Skill to Cultivate (feat. Mark Goulston)

Aug 4, 2023

Why Listening is THE Leadership Skill to Cultivate

Unfortunately, many people are just not very good at listening, leading to missed opportunities and strained relationships.


As CEOs, executives, and leaders, we get impatient with listening, and all too often dominate conversations that shut others down. Listening is not just hearing words; it is an active and engaged process that involves seeking to understand and attuning to others emotions.


Joining me today on The Enlightened Executive podcast is Dr. Mark Goulston, a listening coach, author, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer. His latest best-selling book, “Just Listen,” helps individuals unlock their full potential through better listening skills. With a background in psychiatry, Dr. Goulston teaches executives to be better listeners while discovering what may be holding them back in their interactions


In this episode, Mark explains why listening is THE leadership skill to cultivate and shares practical ways executives can expand their understanding of listening as both presenters and listeners.


Setting the Listener Up for Success 


While it is true that many leaders are expected to do a great deal of communicating, that doesn’t mean they are exempt from honing the skillset of listening. In fact, being mindful of the other person when you are the one communicating makes a dramatic difference in the way a presentation is received and responded to. Here are three ways to consider the listener’s perspective as you communicate.


  1. Become a “First-Class Noticer” – Everyone we communicate with is seeking something (consciously or subconsciously) from the conversation. Being genuinely interested in what the other person is seeking creates a stronger connection and helps us navigate interactions more effectively. Dr. Goulston suggests that by approaching conversations with an open mind, we can uncover what truly matters to the other person. This curiosity helps build rapport and enables us to better understand their needs and perspectives. 
  2. Honor Your Audience – Acknowledging the value of your listeners’ time is crucial in any interaction, whether it’s a presentation, a sales meeting, or a casual conversation. Dr. Goulston encourages us to communicate that we value and honor our listener by considering our own potential blindspots in conversation. We can do so by asking ourselves if what we’re communicating is actually relevant to the listener and how it might be received from their perspective.   
  3. Exude Clarity and Conciseness – Busy individuals appreciate conversations that are clear and concise. Understanding what your audience seeks from a conversation enables you to present information that directly addresses their needs. By “bottomlining it” at the beginning of a conversation, you maximize engagement and build productive professional relationships.


Developing Listening Skills


Not only is it important to intentionally consider the listener in your communication, but it’s also essential to take the next step in improving your own listening skills. Here are five actionable steps to enhance your listening abilities as a leadership skill:


  1. Clarify Intentions – Consider asking others at the beginning of the conversation what would make the interaction valuable for them. Aligning your intentions with theirs allows for a more meaningful exchange of ideas and orientates you as a listener. 
  2. Practice Active Listening – Actively engage in conversations by using your own non-verbal cues like maintaining eye contact, nodding, and providing affirming gestures to show others that you are actively engaged. Avoid interrupting too often and allow the speaker to express their thoughts fully. 
  3. Engage in Active Noticing – As others share, purposefully hone the skill of noticing beyond surface-level observations. Pay attention to what the other person is saying with their body. Noticing these non-verbal cues can help you interpret the speaker’s unspoken emotions and underlying motivations. This will help you better understand their perspective and respond empathetically.
  4. Cultivate Empathy – Listen to understand, rather than to respond. This can be done by putting yourself in the speaker’s shoes and trying to understand their perspective. If you’re struggling to do this, asking relevant questions can give you essential information. Show genuine interest and replay back what you heard in feelings and experiences.
  5. Reflect on Past Listening Experiences –  Take time to reflect on instances when you felt you weren’t being listened to, or when your own poor listening had negative consequences. Identify patterns and behaviors that hinder effective listening, and commit to making positive changes. It’s also helpful to explore resources on effective communication and active listening, such as Dr. Goulston’s book, “Just Listen.”


Dr. Mark Goulston’s insights elevate the transformative power of active listening, curiosity, and clarity. 


Enhancing your listening skills is a lifelong journey that can positively impact your personal and professional relationships. Being intentional about practicing these listening skills will fuel the journey of becoming an exceptional listener—one conversation at a time.


Mark also shares…

  • How to minimize misunderstandings.
  • The difference between passive observation and active noticing.
  • The dark side of transactional listening.


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