1. Section Editor(s): Raso, Rosanne MS, RN, NEA-BC

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The fine art of listening shouldn't be lying dormant in your leadership toolboxes; it should be one of your most frequently used communication tools. Is it? In our daily flurry of meetings and responsibilities with little time to think-never mind engage others-it takes active energy to listen. And this means really listening, not pretending that you're listening.

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Active listening takes practice and more time than other forms of communication, which may be why we don't use it regularly. However, by not actively listening, we lose an effective way to build relationships and connect with people-from our staff, peers, colleagues, and bosses to our kids and spouses. Our mantra needs to be talk less, listen more.


In trying to understand, we have to probe. Ask questions. Clarify. The repeat-back technique we use clinically to ensure that we understand verbal orders or a care plan is the perfect corollary. We should strive to be able to repeat others' points of view, thoughts, or perspectives. If we repeat-back and receive validation that we have it right, then we've truly listened. Years ago, I heard a conflict lecturer give the audience advice on how to handle a disagreement between two staff members: Tell them to come back and explain the issue from the other person's perspective. Brilliant!


American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck said, "You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time." Multitasking is the enemy of listening. Think about it: How much listening are you doing when you're reading e-mails or texting during a meeting? Then there's our tendency to prepare responses in our heads while impatiently waiting (and probably not listening) for the speaker to finish. Body language is important as well. Packing up your desk or rifling through your work pile doesn't signify listening.


Your attentive nonverbal responses, such as the simple practices of eye contact and head nodding, can mean more than words. This doesn't seem different from mindfulness; it's actually about being in the moment. Avoiding distractions is so hard in our busy lives, but a great leader will make a concerted effort to take the time to listen with no interruptions.


If you're courageous, you'll seek out the viewpoints of those who disagree with you. How better to understand your environment's dynamics than to appreciate all perspectives? You may be surprised to find that others have their own truths, not necessarily in dissent, but different than your own. Acknowledge and repeat to make sure that what's being said and what you hear are the same. It's powerful and a sign to your staff members that you're really paying attention to them. You don't have to agree, but you do have to listen.


True communication includes effective listening-an attribute of genuine and authentic leadership, and connectedness with each other. Drop your smartphone, turn off your own thoughts, and open your mind to others. It's worth the effort.



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