What kind of listener are you?  Or are you a listener at all?  If learning to think gray is important for a leader, learning to listen is right on its heels.  So how well do you listen?

Steven Sample has it right when he says that “the average person suffers from three delusions: (1) that he is a good driver, (2) that he has a good sense of humor, and (3) that he is a good listener.”  The tragedy is that when a leader is not also a listener it becomes much more difficult to lead effectively.  Few of us can really afford to be a one man show.  It’s all about gathering a team and then leveraging the skill-sets of the whole team.  If you never learn to listen, the chances that you’ll be able to gather and retain a great team are significantly lower.

So HOW can I become an artful listener?  What needs to happen in order to become a more effective listener?  Here are a few ideas from The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership:

  • Move beyond passive listening.  Take an active interest, become intensely interested and ask questions that draw out the other person.  Ask relevant and probing questions in order to determine the filters and biases of the person you’re listening to.
  • Seek out a second account of the same event.  With independent assessments from two or more people “whose biases you know” will “put you in a better position to discern the truth of the matter.”
  • As you become an active listener, be careful to listen and not voice agreement.  Remember that you’re listening gray.  At this point you’re simply gathering information.  Taking a position too early is to be avoided.  Appearing to approve all comers simply raises the chances that you’ll be misunderstood.  Be careful to actively engage without offering a definite response or taking a position.
  • Know when to stop listening.  This can be difficult, but there comes a time for a decision.  It’s important to note that the decision may be to delegate the decision to someone else.  When the decision to stop listening is made you will need to move on.
  • Don’t make up your mind about the credibility of others until you have to.  Instead, listen.  Ask questions.  Ask for clarification.  Get a second opinion.  Only decide on credibility when you have to.

What’s the takeaway?  Why not try it?  Make it your objective to become an artful listener.  And if you have read The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership you are missing a real find.  I highly recommend it.  Here are the top five books you should be reading.

The Artful Listener