Listen up: How to Become a More Empathetic and Engaging Leader

Your team wants to know that they are valued, heard, and appreciated. See how improving your listening skills can transform you into a more engaging leader.

Effective communication is still one of the top soft skills that most entrepreneurs lack. While this has always been a challenge, remote work has made it even harder for leaders to communicate with their employees.

Yet entrepreneurs can improve their communication skills by practicing active listening. I know, “active listening” sounds like this article is going to be boring. But stick with me, because it isn't as simple as people think. Keep reading for more information about how to listen and how effective listening can transform you into an engaging leader.

How Engaging Leaders Listen

Modern society is full of distractions which have led to most leaders having mediocre listening skills. It is not uncommon for a manager to take a call they think is important during a meeting with an employee.

Sometimes they may even walk out of an employee meeting to follow up on an urgent request from a client or their senior. These types of behaviors show your employees that you don’t value them and find them dispensable.

Using Practical Listening Methods

So how do engaging leaders listen? The first thing you should do is create some time to speak to each of your employees. Use technology to automate some of your listening functions.

For example, you can schedule employee engagement surveys to go out at specified times. When properly done and analyzed, surveys can be a rich source of information on employee engagement.

Make it a point to visit with employees in different departments and have brief conversations about how they are doing. Active listening during such walks can also be a goldmine of useful information.

Don’t forget traditional ways of listening such as one-to-one meetings and annual performance reviews. These also have their place.

Go Above and Beyond to Understand

Listening is not a function limited to our ears. Great listeners use other senses such as sight, touch, and even smell when listening. Pay attention to your employee’s body language, tone and voice, and intent.

The words they use may have different meanings for them than they do for you and this can be a source of miscommunication for many people. For example, someone may say that a meal is hot. They may mean that the food is very spicy and you may assume that they mean that the food has a high degree of heat.

Miscommunication caused by different word meanings could be very costly. The only way to combat such issues is to be an active listener and make comments or ask questions so that you correct any misunderstandings.

Words only form 7% of communication. So effective listeners must hear what is being communicated through other means.

Modern society has evolved in such a manner that many people don’t say what they mean. Instead, they hint at what they want to say or try and give cues to make you understand what they want to communicate.

This may be very frustrating for leaders that like to be direct. Effective leaders are experts at picking up on these cues and deducing the real message. Creating a trusting environment whereby employees can be open and direct without judgment can help them to speak plainly.

The 5 Elements of Effective Listening

Thought leaders agree that listening is a process that follows five main steps. First, you must receive the message. To do so, remove all distractions.

If you are having a face to face interaction, put your phone on silent and facedown on the table. Give the employee your full attention and maintain eye contact whilst also observing the rest of their body language. For phone calls or online meetings avoid all forms of multitasking and give your full attention to the call.

To receive the complete message, you should also avoid interrupting your employee as this will disturb their train of thought. Wait until they finish talking to ask clarifying questions or give your feedback. Additionally, don’t think about how you will respond while the employee is speaking as this will distract you from hearing them.

The second element of listening is to establish that you have understood the message. Once the employee finishes talking, ask questions, and rephrase what the employee said to confirm you have understood them.

The third step would be to ensure you remember what employees said. Do this by identifying and thinking about the main point of what your employee is saying. Finally, in the fourth and fifth steps, you will evaluate what the employee is saying and then respond by addressing the employee’s talking points or concerns.

Does Effective Listening Increase Employee Engagement?

Listening to your employees with the intent of hearing and understanding them greatly improves employee engagement. First, it shows employees that you value them and their opinions.

Additionally, it helps you learn what makes your employees tick and how you can influence them. To be an effective leader you must understand who your employees are and build a trust relationship with them. Only then can you motivate them and get them to follow you to achieve your vision.

Leadership engagement is also increased by effective listening. This is because you can pick up on and resolve issues that your employees may have. Without listening, leaders may spend a lot of time addressing symptoms rather than the root causes of employee disengagement. This is why you hear many entrepreneurs complaining about the amount they have invested in employee incentives without any returns on productivity.

Active listening can also do wonders for your bottom line. Once your employees know that you value and hear them, they will be more forthcoming with ideas on how you can innovate.

Their suggestions may take the form of cost-cutting ideas or new products. It could also be services that will better suit your client and even better ways to engage with clients to improve sales. Be sure to give genuine appreciation and prompt feedback.

Impact of Leadership on Employee Engagement

We have seen that listening is an essential skill for engaging in leadership. Entrepreneurs that listen to their employees can detect and avert issues long before they become major catastrophes.

Effective listening can also help you discover the motivations of all your employees. It also helps to determine the types of incentives that will work best to increase their productivity.

For more tools on how you can become an engaging leader, check out our leadership programs.