Superb Listening In a Distracted World

In a noisy and competitive world, being the leader who truly listens can be a great differentiator.

But it is rarely easy. Good listening is often forced to take a back seat in the face of time pressure, stress and decision-making. Our innate desire to listen and understand can surrender to the siren song of voicemails, text messages, and e-mails. And sometimes we just don’t have the patience or focus to listen as well as we should.

But listening is vitally important, and it is a skill that almost every leader can improve. So here are seven reasons why working to become a better listener is a smart investment.


Superb listeners make fewer mistakes. This makes sense if you think about it: in the long run, leaders who listen carefully are going to gather more information, hear more varied perspectives, and take a bit more time before making decisions.

We know that mistakes can be expensive and embarrassing, so there is an efficiency argument for being a better listener. As obvious as it seems, many mistakes can be avoided or mitigated simply by slowing down and listening more carefully.


Superb listeners are seen as trustworthy. Listening well to others positions you as a thoughtful, responsible, thorough and collaborative professional, regardless of your field of endeavour. Good listening is a behavioural cornerstone for building the rapport and empathy than underpin credibility and trust.

If you genuinely want colleagues and customers to trust you, an effective way to get there is to consistently listen to them. This requires an investment of time, energy, and mental focus, but the payoff is there.


Superb listeners have motivated, collaborative teams. In our fascination with technologies and ‘the latest thing’ — right now we seem to be focused on machine learning and AI — we can easily overlook a fundamental truth about human nature: people want to be heard and acknowledged.

Even if we don’t agree with everything they say, people want to be accorded the respect of being listened to and taken seriously. And this extends to team dynamics: productivity and morale are almost always higher in teams where good listening is the norm and leaders consistently model the behaviour.


Superb listeners are listened to. This is about reciprocity. One of the interesting things about listening is our tendency is pay greater attention to the people who are already listening to us. This basically becomes a question of ‘paying it forward’: if I am attentive and listen carefully to others, they will be more likely to attend to and listen to me.

On the other hand, if I interrupt a lot and listen poorly, people will be inclined to treat me the same way: the reciprocity concept works in both directions, for good or ill. So superb listening can subtly influence others: the more effectively I listen to them, the more inclined they will be to listen to me.


Superb listeners notice details. A corollary benefit of great listening is the capacity to notice nuances that we might have missed before. This can be particularly useful in meetings and negotiations: the outstanding listener is more likely to pick up on ‘little’ things like inflection, hesitations and silences, frowns and smiles, and changes in body language.

These communication details often tell a subtle and meaningful story of their own, and a poor listener is going to miss or misinterpret most of them. So investing time and mental ‘bandwidth’ in listening well can provide nuanced and valuable insights.


Superb listeners are distinctive. The sad truth is that relatively few leaders are great listeners: they may be too busy, too distracted or perhaps too self-absorbed to listen effectively.

Whatever the case, listening offers leaders and would-be leaders an opportunity to enhance a fundamental skill that is both practical and visible. Being the leader who truly listens is a differentiator.


Superb listeners suspend their agendas. This is a listening skill that tends to separate the ‘good’ from the ‘great’: the capacity to temporarily set aside one’s own concerns and priorities in order to really hear the concerns and priorities of the other person.

This takes practice, stamina and a degree of mental agility, but developing the capacity to suspend your agenda is a great way to raise your game as a listener and a leader.

In sum, today’s world is an increasingly demanding and competitive one for leaders. Being a superb listener will make you even more effective. Make the investment.

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