• What behaviors define leaders that listen?
  • They do not cut off people in the middle of sentences.
  • They do not look at their blackberry or computer when someone is talking to them.
  • They do not ridicule people in public or private. This action almost insures that people will assume that you are not a good listener.

These are just some of the observations I have made in my experience in working with high-powered leaders. The best leaders have been able to balance these behaviors with the amount of time they spend listening to people who are not very articulate or succinct in their conversation.  Essentially, good listening is a character trait. A person must have a general respect for others if he wants to be a good listener. Leaders that look down on the people who work for them are not able to make a permanent shift from poor listener to great listener unless there is a shift in the way that they view people.

Some effective ways to make someone feel heard are:

  • Make eye contact consistently
  • Acknowledge their words by asking clarification questions to show that you are really trying to understand what they are saying
  • Use body language that demonstrates that you are not distracted. If you are distracted, tell them and have the conversation later
  • If you are on the phone, you will have to acknowledge more than you would in person by using phrases that confirm that you are attentively listening on the other line. (i.e. uh-huh, makes sense, okay)

In my engagement with my clients, there is almost always a period where there is tension. The cause of the tension can be from multiple sources. In my view, there are two main sources. The tension usually emerges after the initial engagement or what I like to call “the honeymoon period”. Most clients are initially excited about the prospect of the change that they think that I can help them with. They think that I can give them answers that they could not come up with themselves based on my wisdom and experience.

Of course, the relevant experience that I bring to the table in the relationship is my coaching experience. I rarely bring any subject matter expertise about the client’s industry or job function. So the tension emerges from the client’s misunderstanding of what coaching is. If this is the source of the tension, my shortcoming at that point is usually that I was unable to properly explain the nature of coaching to the client.

Another source of tension between the client and I is the work related to the change that the client engaged me to help him with. The destination is appealing to the client, but when there is ambiguity in our thinking during the coaching process, he gets frustrated. This situation usually emerges when we are exploring options and the client wants to jump to solutions. In fact, a lot of the time, I also get frustrated with the ambiguity and start to get tense.

In my view, this tension is unavoidable most of the time. In order to mitigate the risk of damaging the relationship with the client at these sensitive stages, I warn the client of the imminent tension ahead of time. This manages both of our expectations and reduces the feeling of uncertainty in the relationship. However, it does not avoid the inevitable; meaningful change comes with work, which is pleasurable, satisfying and at the same time, uncomfortable.