Michael Reddington, CFI is an executive resource, president of InQuasive, Inc. and the author of The Disciplined Listening Method.
Leaders are increasingly realizing the importance of developing their personal brands. They have become much more aware of who and what they connect with, what they say and who they share their thoughts with.
There is no doubt that these steps affect the perception of their personal brands. But these efforts also fall short. Our personal brands as leaders are based on how people perceive us as listeners. After all, the way we communicate tells people how much we respect them.
This applies just as much in the conference room as in the interrogation room. One of the questions I was often asked at the end of my research was, “Why did he tell you all that?” to which I replied, “I listened to him, treated him with respect and encouraged him to save face.” This simple framework produces the same surprising results for employees and customers.
Unlocking hidden value in every key interaction requires leaders to take responsibility for their counterparts’ communication experiences. Intuitive leaders prioritize learning and adjust their approach to conversation with whom they speak and what goals they want to achieve. These leaders know that listening to what someone says is not as important as listening to how someone is feeling.
Good listeners have six characteristics that help capture the totality of the messages they perceive, enhance the strength of their personal brand, and advance goals and relationships.
1. A strong sense of curiosity
Our brains crave comfort and consistency. We are wired to seek information that confirms what we believe and to ignore information that contradicts what we believe. Maintaining a high level of curiosity motivates leaders to open up, ask more questions, understand other people’s perspectives, and think about ideas that make them uncomfortable. All of these position leaders to learn more, make informed decisions, and make sure their audiences know they’ve been listened to.
2. The ability to limit their internal monologue
We can only listen to one conversation at a time, and our internal monologue usually takes precedence over anything our counterparts have to say. We are unable to receive the nuances of our counterparts’ messages when we are focused on what we want to say next, how we feel, or where we would rather be otherwise. Limiting your internal monologue helps you reduce unproductive emotional responses and frees up your cognitive resources to capture the entirety of what your audience is communicating.
3. The ability to control their emotions
As our emotions get stronger, they simultaneously gain power over our thoughts and actions. Listening or communicating to satisfy our emotions is often counterproductive to achieving our goals and fostering our relationships. When we feel justified, our counterparts almost certainly feel victimized. Good listeners know that their emotions are generated by their own perceptions and expectations, which increases control over their emotions and allows them to prioritize achieving their goals.
4. Enough discipline to limit distractions
Distraction can be deadly and easy to rationalize. Leaders may be quick to justify checking their messages, taking a phone call, or performing other tasks while their counterparts are talking to them. After all, time is money, and successful leaders and technical experts can easily believe they already know everything they need. Meanwhile, these distractions make us look disrespectful and drastically reduce our observation capabilities. Good listeners have the presence of mind to focus completely on their counterparts to make the most of what they learn — and the impressions they make — during valuable interactions.
5. Sufficient awareness to discover hidden value
Great leaders listen to intelligence, not information. Listening to information often puts people in a check-the-box mentality and serves to confirm the expectations they have in their conversations. Listening to intelligence forces leaders to observe the nuances in their counterparts’ body language, verbal delivery, and word choice, while capturing even the seemingly arbitrary or meaningless statements of their counterparts. By observing the totality of your counterparts’ communications and comparing them to your long-term goals, you generate previously undiscovered alternatives and opportunities.
6. Sufficient confidence to empathize with people who hold opposing perspectives
Leaders with a high ego strength (not a big ego) do not feel threatened by external or conflicting ideas and perspectives. They accept these views as valid in the eyes of their counterparts, seek to understand their counterparts’ frame of reference, extrapolate valuable information, and develop new alternatives for furthering goals and relationships—all without feeling their self-image has been violated.
To maximize their listening potential, leaders must suspend judgment and accept their counterparts’ perspectives as valid, if not accurate. When leaders show the patience and vulnerability necessary to truly embrace the totality of another person’s communication experience, they remove the limitations of what they can achieve, setting both the example and the standard for everyone around them to and strengthen their personal brand reputation.