Do You Listen to Respond or Do You Listen to Understand?

Did you know that one of the biggest sources of frustration in the workplace is feeling unheard and undervalued? This insight came to me when I stumbled upon an influencer's poll where over a million followers voted on the most frustrating thing about work. The top two answers were centered around the theme of *not being listened to* and *not feeling valued*.

As leaders, one of our most essential skills is communication. Effective communication requires excellent listening skills. However, listening is a challenging task, especially for leaders with so many responsibilities and distractions. More often, we listen to respond rather than listening to understand.

What is active listening, and why is it important?

Active listening is a communication technique that involves focusing on the speaker's words, tone, and intent to understand the message. When we listen actively, we're not just hearing the words; we're also paying attention to nonverbal cues like body language and tone of voice. This type of listening requires us to give our full attention to the speaker and refrain from interrupting or jumping to conclusions.

Active listening is essential because it helps to build and maintain relationships, reduce misunderstandings and conflicts, and promote empathy and understanding. By actively listening, we can identify the core issues, help people feel heard, and provide useful feedback.

The Difference Between Listening to Respond and Listening to Understand

Have you ever found yourself planning what to say next while someone is still talking? Or formulating an answer to a question before the person has even finished asking it? This behavior is called listening to respond. Listening to respond means you're formulating your response while the other person is still talking. This type of listening is self-centered and can lead to miscommunication or misunderstanding. On the other hand, listening to understand means you put your own thoughts and emotions aside to focus fully on what the speaker is saying. You seek to clarify what the speaker is trying to communicate and gather important information to help you form an accurate response.

Tips for cultivating active listening skills

Developing active listening skills takes time and practice, but it's worth the effort. Here are some tips for honing your active listening skills:

- Focus solely on the speaker: Pay attention to the speaker's verbal and nonverbal cues without any distractions.

- Ask clarifying questions: Seek clarification when needed by asking open-ended questions.

- Provide feedback: Show the speaker that you have understood what they said without bias or judgment.

- Paraphrase: Restate what you heard in your own words to ensure understanding.

- Avoid interruptions: Never interrupt the speaker, and wait for them to finish before jumping in.

Benefits of Active Listening in Leadership

Leaders who actively listen enjoy several benefits, including:

  • Building rapport with their team members
  • Improving the accuracy and quality of communication
  • Resolving conflicts amicably
  • Empowering employees to voice their concerns and ideas
  • Building trust and respect with colleagues and employees


**Effective communication** is the foundation of great leadership, and **active listening** is an essential ingredient. By truly listening - to understand, not just respond - you will be more present and gain a better understanding of the message of the speaker. It takes time, effort, and attention, but once you've developed active listening skills, you can build a more positive and productive work environment. You'll discover that people are more responsive to you, and communication will become more harmonious. Let's unleash the power of active listening to unlock our leadership potential!

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Leadership With Heart With Heather R Younger

“Heather’s courage and vulnerability to share her authentic self are truly inspiring. She shares the most cutting-edge leadership strategies on topics like emotional intelligence and employee experience. If you’re looking to sharpen your leadership skills, this podcast is for you.”

Heather is a Workplace Culture Expert


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The Cycle of Active Listening

Create a listening culture that elevates the workplace experience for everyone.

Through this guide, uncover how to ensure those in your care at work feel heard and valued, resulting in increased loyalty and satisfaction.

  • Understand why listening is the key to improved engagement
  • Learn how the Cycle of Active Listening contributes to strong workplace relationships
  • Get a practical framework for creating a listening culture that is bidirectional, responsive, and supportive

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