Active listening is a leadership skill

Practice active listening to aid in conflict resolution or relationship building.

Active listening can be a powerful tool for a leader and a great way to gain information and perspective. As you work on improving your leadership skills, Michigan State University Extension recommends practicing active listening as part of your learning experiences.

Active listening is a type of communication that is especially useful in a one-on-one dialogue situation. Often used in the context of conflict resolution, this type of listening is also helpful when you are trying to build relationships with others. In this method, you are working to understand the point of view of the other person before you try to have the other person understand your point of view.

Active listening is a tool for respect and understanding. Respect underlies all of the steps in this process. When you start from a place of genuine respect for the other person, all of these techniques will come easier. In turn, you will also be more respected in the process.

There are five steps in the process of active listening.

  1. Pay attention. Avoid being distracted by factors such as side conversations or technology. In addition, avoid using the time when the other person is talking to mentally prepare your rebuttal.
  2. Show you are listening. Your non-verbal body language will speak volumes! Use eye contact, head nods and facial expressions to convey your interest. Small verbal comments like “yes” or “uh-huh” will encourage the speaker to continue.
  3. Provide feedback. Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing; use language such as "What I am hearing is ___" and "Sounds like you are saying ___." Ask questions to clarify certain points. "What do you mean when you say ___?" "Is this what you mean?" Periodically summarize the speaker's comments.
  4. Defer judgement. Try to approach the situation with curiosity for the other person’s point of view. When one is judging another before fully listening, they tend to interrupt. This should be avoided, as it will only frustrate the speaker and limit your ability to understand.
  5. Respond appropriately. Keeping in mind your goal to improve your understanding of the other person, you can express your opinions respectfully. Be candid and honest, but also treat the other person like you would like to be treated.

Try practicing these steps with peers in a simulated situation. Give the other speaker at least 2 minutes to explain their thoughts while you focus on just listening. This can be hard to do in reality, so practicing is key!

You may find yourself responding emotionally to what someone says. If this happens, acknowledge your response and give the speaker a chance to give you more information. Try something like, "I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is ___; is that what you meant?"

Active listening can be a great way to improve your communication skills and build trust with others. With just a few steps, you can improve your listening skills and add to your leadership capacity.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

Did you find this article useful?