Are You Really Listening?
Great leaders go beyond just hearing words - they listen attentively to uncover deeper insights and meaning from subtle cues like tone, emphasis, and what's unsaid.
WRITTEN BY: ADAM DANYAL
Listening seems easy. After all, it just requires keeping quiet while someone else talks, right? Not so fast. True active listening involves much more than resting your ears. It demands full focus, engaged body language, paraphrasing, reflective questions, and restraint from quick judgments. Mastering the art of active listening is how leaders gain deeper understanding.
Like a detective, attentive listening picks up subtle clues from tone, word choice, cadence and emphasis. Combined, these cues reveal more than just stated facts. They disclose intentions, motivations, doubts and needs - the unspoken context that shapes meaning. As marketing executive Seth Godin puts it, “Great listening is not only the ability to hear what someone says, it’s also listening to what they don’t say.”
Consider how Sherlock Holmes stories portray this idea. Through astute observation of tiny details - an ink stain or tobacco scent - the master detective makes brilliant deductions about suspects. Leaders play a similar role. By tuning into subtle vocal cues and reading between the lines, they uncover insights to guide better decisions.
Take pauses and hesitations. Like clues at a crime scene, they signal areas of discomfort or concealment. Gently exploring these lulls often exposes crucial issues or concerns not directly voiced. What’s unsaid becomes as enlightening as what’s said.
Of course, listening well goes beyond just hearing words accurately. Like a sports coach reviewing game tape, leaders must replay conversations to pick up themes and discern needs. Reflective listening techniques like summarizing discussions (“Let me make sure I understand...”) or paraphrasing viewpoints (“It sounds like you feel...”) demonstrate true comprehension.
In the end, listening evokes meaning. And meaning inspires change. When team members know their leader has truly listened, doors unlock to greater commitment, innovation and care. But that only happens after leaders tune in completely - not just to statements but intentions, not just to facts but feelings. As management guru Peter Drucker put it, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Are you really listening?
From our Leadership Bookshelf:
WRITTEN BY: JULIA DANYAL
True listening demands more than registering words. Like detectives, leaders must listen for subtle clues - hesitations that conceal discomfort, peculiar word choices that reveal doubt. As relationship experts John M. Gottman and Nan Silver explain in “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, engaged listening involves:
Paying attention to tone and cadence, which disclose intentions beyond facts
Summarizing discussions to check for themes and needs
Gently exploring pauses and lulls that often signal crucial issues
Asking reflective questions to understand contexts and motivations
Postponing quick judgments until fully comprehending perspectives
Leaders who listen this way unlock deeper commitment and care. By tuning into nuances and feelings underlying statements, they gain insights to guide better decisions. As Gottman and Silver emphasize, good listeners strive to understand the unspoken, not just the said. That's how you truly connect.