Why Active Listening Matters in Leadership

Updated: Apr 13

It's tough to learn a listening skill as it requires a person to be more present, attentive, engaged, open, and flexible. All for the benefit of building relationships with other people. This is what is known as active listening.


Moreover, as a strategy to improve leadership skills, active listening can encourage stronger communication between you and your team members. Knowing that their leader cares about and appreciates them makes each team member feel valued as an individual and is an important factor in driving employee engagement. The goal of active listening is to acquire information, listen to understand people and situations before responding to it. It is the conscious decision to listen carefully and understand what people are trying to convey without being judgmental.

Importance of active listening in leadership

It's tough to learn a listening skill as it requires a person to be more present, attentive, engaged, open, and flexible. All for the benefit of building relationships with other people. This is what is known as active listening.


Moreover, as a strategy to improve leadership skills, active listening can encourage stronger communication between you and your team members. Knowing that their leader cares about and appreciates them makes each team member feel valued as an individual and is an important factor in driving employee engagement. The goal of active listening is to acquire information, listen to understand people and situations before responding to it. It is the conscious decision to listen carefully and understand what people are trying to convey without being judgmental.


How to be a better listener


The listening process can be broken up into five distinct stages: receiving, understanding, remembering, evaluating, and responding. This is the model most commonly referred to when analyzing good communication because it helps isolate the necessary skills required at each individual step in the process.


1. Pay attention (receiving)

One goal of active listening and being an effective listener is to set a comfortable tone that gives the person you're talking with (the speaker) an opportunity to think and speak. Allow “wait time” before responding. Don’t cut them off, finish their sentences, or start formulating your answer before they’ve finished.

Pay attention to your body language as well as your frame of mind when engaging in active listening. Be focused on the moment, and operate from a place of respect as the listener. Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener and a leader, be open to new ideas, new perspectives, and new possibilities when practicing active listening. Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold any criticisms, and avoid arguing or selling their point right away.


2. Reflect and clarify (understanding)

When you’re the listener, don’t assume that you understand correctly what the speaker talks about — or that they know you’ve heard them. Mirror their information and emotions by periodically paraphrasing key points. Reflecting is an active listening technique that indicates that you and your counterpart are on the same page.


3. Familiarize the message (remembering)

What good would it do in a conversation if you forgot everything the speaker had just said? This stage of the listening process might seem very similar to the first two, but it goes beyond merely absorbing and processing information.

Remembering is about retaining that information, and the most effective way to do so is to move the key elements of a message from your short-term memory, and into your long-term memory. To this, you can do the following:

  • Identify the main points

  • Make the message familiar

  • Relate that main idea to something you already know

4. Clarify (evaluating)

Don’t be shy to ask questions about any issue that is ambiguous or unclear when engaging in active listening. As the listener, if you have doubt or confusion about what the speaker has said. Open-ended, clarifying, and probing questions are important active listening tools that encourage the speaker to do the work of self-reflection and problem solving, rather than justifying or defending a position, or trying to guess the “right answer.”


When engaging in active listening, the emphasis is on asking rather than telling. It invites a thoughtful response and maintains a spirit of collaboration. You might say: “What are some of the specific things you’ve tried?” or “Have you asked the team what their main concerns are?” or “Does Emma agree that there are performance problems?” and “How certain are you that you have the full picture of what’s going on?”

5. Share (responding)

Active listening is mainly about understanding the other person, then about being understood as the listener. As you gain a clearer understanding of the other person’s perspective, you can begin to introduce your ideas, feelings, and suggestions. You might talk about a similar experience you had or share an idea that was triggered by a comment made previously in the conversation.


Once the situation has been talked through in this way, both you and the speaker have a good picture of where things stand. From this point, the conversation can shift into problem-solving. What hasn’t been tried? What don’t we know? What new approaches could be taken?


6 Benefits of Active Listening


1. Building trust

You and other employees, or team members, are happy when you meet each other’s respective goals. For an employer, it is the organizational success and for the employees, it is the tasks and objectives they are assigned to complete. It is, therefore, very vital to have trust in each other for a healthy work experience.


Additionally, to build trust the following must be done:

  • lend an ear.

  • be honest and supportive.

  • be non-judgmental.

  • have healthy communication.

A leader must have an understanding, which can be developed by active listening. This will help align your words and actions and help build trust.


2. Encourages productivity

Active listening has countless benefits when it comes to employee productivity.

When higher management does not hear the employees’ views and ideas, it fuels employees’ resentment and lowers productivity. Proper feedback and actively considering the employees’ views and ideas are vital for a healthy workplace and performance. Having said that, it is also important to assure that the internal communication is solid, only then they can develop a culture of mutual trust and understanding. It is always a two-way process.

Give and take effective feedback and acknowledge.


3. Resolves conflicts

Conflicts and mishaps are inevitable in any workplace. The reasons for this can vary from a minor misunderstanding or a major debacle. Misunderstandings, different viewpoints, or a lack of recognition often creates conflicts in the workplace. There is nothing good communication cannot resolve. Here when I say ‘better communication’, I mean active listening.


Often we fail to understand or respect other’s views because we never see things from their perspective. Our sense of self-righteousness also interferes here. Active listening helps in recognizing other’s perspectives and feelings and helps us appreciate them. This not only helps in resolving conflicts, but also helps foster a culture of respect.

Try to understand others' perspectives before responding.


4. Strengthens work relationship

It is important to form healthy working relationships in the workplace for a healthy work experience.


Leaders who listen to understand form better relationships and are more empathetic in their approach. The same holds for work relationships. The more members in a workplace follow this approach, the better work relationships they form.

Be more empathetic and don’t rush to make a decision.


5. Self-empowerment

Self-empowerment helps a leader build confidence and let go of agendas. When you practice active listening and understand what is beneficial for you in the workplace, you expand your perspective in that direction and empower yourself. You become more aware of your work environment, and you communicate with your peers and members of the organization with much ease and confidence.


Actively listen and see the body language of the speaker. Be more open to learning from them.


6. Improving culture of acceptance

Every company has its own company culture and each member adds value to it. The root of this culture starts with acceptance.


For an organization to succeed, both its employers and employees must be aligned with the common goal. Therefore, they need to accept each other for their respective parts and actively listen to each other while carrying out their work duties.


Also, in the onboarding process of new employees, management must listen to their feedback and views on different aspects of the organization. This minimizes confusion and gives a sense of acceptance to them. Active listening can, therefore, be a great morale booster.

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