Leadership

Learning this simple skill will make you an exceptional leader, according to science

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When we think of leadership, we often picture someone speaking in front of the podium, or at the very least, in front of their team. However, it is a misconception that leadership involves blabbing others' ears off.

In fact, Harvard studies found that over half of our time at work is spent listening, but we immediately forget half the things we hear. Even worse, poor listening greatly diminishes your ability to connect with others and be a leader.

Look no further than active listening — the make-or-break factor for being a successful leader. It accounts for nearly 40% of your likability and leadership success.

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By using active listening skills you will increase trust amongst your team, diminish conflicts, motivate others more easily, and inspire high levels of confidence — just be tuning up your listening and communication skills!

Active listening is more than just zipping your mouth shut, however. It's a skill that involves understanding others, getting them to talk more, and inspiring trust and commitment.

The good news: Active listening is fairly easy to pull off by using some proven tips.

Whether you're running a team or just part of one — take these listening skills back to the workplace and you will notice your ability to influence and lead will soar to new heights.

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Don't just stand there

"To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight." — Harvard Business Review.

Effective communication doesn't involve just standing there — to actively listen, you need to encourage questions, and delve deeper if there's something you don't understand.

For instance, if someone is explaining a complex equation to you, don't just nod your head - wait for a brief pause and ask, "can you explain that one section more?" Don't worry about appearing dumber; most people are happy to explain their topics of expertise, and you'll be seen as an interested leader who wants to learn more.

Build other's self-esteem

"Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships" — Stephen Covey

HBR also points out that effective listeners make the experience a positive experience for the other party. Instead of being critical, they made the listening experience a positive one; where the person feels supported, and most importantly, trusted.

You can start by conveying confidence in the speaker, and making them feel supported. For instance— if someone really seems off these past few days, ask them what's up. They may be having a crisis at home that is affecting their work and unless they know they can trust you to talk about it, they likely won't bring it up themselves.

Ditch the digital

Have you ever sat down for a meeting with someone in their own office when they are surrounded by their digital belongings? Irritating barely even touches the surface of what it feels like to be on the other end as they keep looking down at their phone when it lights up or turning back to their desktop when they email delivery sound echoes softly.

The next time someone enters your office to talk, take the time to "ditch the digital" — turn your phone face down, close the laptop and turn off your monitors. Not only will this make for a more productive conversation, but showing your team that you care enough to close out the rest of the world for those few minutes will go a long way.

You are also setting the standard now — if this is your normal routine it is likely you that you won't be seeing many cell phones out at your monthly meeting. Lead with example and do as you say!

Practice

Practice listening?!? Yes, and start right now. As with anything else, practice makes better and until you actively try to improve upon it you will be stuck right where you are.

So what can you do to improve? Try to clear your head before an important conversation (deep breaths and meditating are always a good idea before a big meeting) in order to keep your thoughts from drifting when others are speaking.

You may also want to try making mini summaries in your head as the conversation moves along and feel free to verbalize this as well. Check in with the other person to make sure you are still on the same page, "so this is what I am hearing so far," or "ok, let's review what we've gone over" — this will allow both parties to clarify what has been said and confirm that it was conveyed correctly.

Clarify and dig deeper

Chances are, if this listening thing is not something you have mastered yet, your team/coworkers may be a bit resistant to come to you with issues (whether you like to believe it or not, they've noticed your flaw). That being said, there is likely a bit of anxiety and resistance when they are actually approaching you about something uncomfortable.

And nothing will be more frustrating to them then if they feel the conversation was not productive or that nothing will come out of it — so, if you don't completely understand what their point is, ask.

Ask questions such as, "what exactly do you mean by the whole team?" or "can you give me an example of that?" Challenge the conversation; this will allow you to fully understand the issue at hand and will encourage the team member to get it all off of their chest before leaving your office.

Keep your body language in check

Actively paying attention to your body language, your facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures, can make a huge difference in your interactions and you actually have the ability to make a positive impact.

Uncross your arms, keep steady eye contact, lean in towards the speaker, nod when you hear something interesting and be sure your tone stays positive (even when you are conveying something tough) — not only will this help you listen better by being in tune with your body, but it will also convey a positive message to your listener; "this person really cares about what I'm saying."

Becoming self-aware is one of the best gifts you can give yourself personally and professionally — how you come across to others matters, you need to have strong emotional intelligence and understand how you are being perceived to the rest of the world.

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This article originally appeared on Medium.