That is the advice for new bosses and all leaders from Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, author of the book “Becoming the New Boss: The New Leader’s Guide to Sustained Success” (Indie Books International, 2017).
“A new boss has the opportunity to impact an organization and its employees on many levels, and to serve as a primary catalyst for its future growth and success,” says Hoff. “While leading is exciting and fulfilling, it can also be challenging.”
Hoff is an executive coach who works with leaders who want to increase their leadership capacity and improve their team’s effectiveness. He speaks to and coaches hundreds of executives and leaders each year on how to increase productivity and engagement. He holds two master’s degrees in education and educational leadership, and completed his doctorate in human and organizational psychology.
Here are eight listening tips for leaders from Hoff’s book:
- See eye-to-eye. One crucial element of good listening is making strong eye contact. By fixing your eyes on the speaker, you will avoid becoming distracted while also demanding genuine attention. Eye contact is an important element of all face-to-face communication, even if you know the speaker well.
- Use receptive body language. Without saying a word, our bodies communicate much about attitudes and feelings. We need to be aware of this in any conversation that we have. If seated, lean slightly forward to communicate attention. Nod or use other gestures or words that will encourage the speaker to continue.
- Position yourself wisely. Always be careful to maintain an appropriate distance between you and the speaker. Being too close may communicate pushiness or lack of respect. If you remain distant, however, you may be seen as cold or disinterested. Body postures matter too in most cultures. The crossing of one’s arms or legs, for example, often conveys close-mindedness.
- Stop talking and start listening. This is a most basic listening principle, and often the hardest to abide by. When somebody else is talking, it can be very tempting to jump in with a question or comment. This is particularly true when we seek to sound informed, insightful, or if we start to feel defensive due to the speaker’s criticisms. Be mindful that a pause, even a long one, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished. Let the speaker continue in his or her own time; sometimes it takes a few moments to formulate what to say and how to say it.
- Humbly take on their point of view. Approach each conversation from the vantage point of the speaker. Seek to empathize and to objectively consider their position, regardless of their rank. Be humble enough to listen carefully, even if you disagree with what is being said.
- Summarize and clarify. When the other person has finished talking, take a moment to restate and clarify what you have heard. Use language like, “So, to summarize, I think you said…” End by asking whether you heard correctly, which will encourage immediate feedback. considering the message that was just shared.
- Leave the door open. Keep open the possibility of additional communication after this conversation has ended. You never know when new insights or concerns may emerge.
- Thank them for approaching you. Do not take any conversation for granted. For many employees, requesting a meeting requires that they summon much courage and rehearse their message time and again. Moreover, you probably learned something useful and meaningful during your talk: information or ideas that may help you as the leader.
“While all of the above strategies can help leaders make the most of listening opportunities, leaders also need to take steps to create a broader culture in which listening (and therefore communicating) is valued and desired,” says Hoff. “Cultures typically do not evolve on their own. They are the product of conscious decisions and modeled behaviors that, over time, become part of the fabric of communal and organizational life.”
Hoff advises that leaders who actively encourage others to speak and share their thoughts will be more likely to really know what people are thinking (including when they are upset), learn from the group’s collective wisdom, strengthen morale, and increase worker motivation.