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Communication

The Top Overlooked Communication Skill of Great Leaders

Having meaningful conversations with your employees is critical to your company's success.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com
Head of Communications at Hiscox USA

As a leader or manager, it's natural to want to demonstrate your business acumen to your direct reports and colleagues. However, if you're always expressing your point of view and dominating conversations, you may be missing out on unique ideas that others are hesitant to share. In an era when everyone is trying to demonstrate their thought leadership in one form or another, you may be forgetting to listen -- one of the most powerful communication tools a leader can use to drive engagement and build trust.

Related: 14 Proven Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills

I recently came across an insightful quote from Al Carnesale, former chancellor of UCLA: "When you're CEO, you're often seen as the smartest person in the room, and others will be looking to you to show it. You must resist that temptation. It is the only way to bring out the fullest collective intelligence of any room."

Being the more vocal person in a conversation is an easy trap to fall into as a business leader. When you run a business, you're accustomed to others looking to you for advice, ideas and coaching. As a result, you may feel the need to consistently deliver interesting and insightful nuggets of wisdom that will leave everyone wanting more. However, you cannot be everywhere in the company at once. Your reports and others will be aware of issues and opportunities that you don't see, and for the company to be successful, their voices, concerns and ideas need to be heard. Put simply, if you're not collaborating with members of your team, you will most likely end up with a room full of "yes-people," and that is not the best way to develop an innovative, diverse and successful business

Listening to your employees will remind both you and your employees that everyone's input is valued, and all contributions play a role in the company's success. It's not a one-way but a two-way, multidimensional conversation between you and your team.

Related: Do Us All a Favor and Stop Saying These Words Around the Office

Here are some ways you can make sure the conversations in your company are more engaging and productive.

Set employees up for success.

Ask everyone to come to meetings with ideas in writing. Encourage participants to speak up with any ideas they have -- no matter how outrageous they may seem. Sometimes an idea that could never work can spark enough conversation to turn into an idea that makes a big difference.

Make sure you are creating an environment for listening.

Close your laptop and put away the smartphone. Focus your complete attention on the person who is speaking and ask clarifying questions. Make sure everyone in the room has a chance to both speak and listen. CEOs aren't the only ones who benefit from listening -- it will help all of your employees better understand the business and the challenges that lie ahead.

Ask great questions.

Great questions will illicit great responses and ideas. If you ask strong questions, you will learn more about your colleagues and the facets of the business you may be less involved with on a day-to-day basis. Thought-provoking questions will also help the person who is responding to learn and discover things they may not have realized.

Related: Why It's on You to Stop People From Interrupting You

Make sure issues that arise are delegated to people who can solve them.

Communicate priorities so that everyone knows which problems or projects are the most important. Encourage the appropriate people to provide their input on the prioritization of these issues as well. Follow up with the group or provide status updates as appropriate.

Recognize your colleagues who suggest new ideas or solutions.

Providing positive reinforcement to those who share ideas and execute on projects will result in more collaborative conversations in the future. By being a good listener, you will become a better leader and build more meaningful relationships with your employees. You will build trust and connectedness within your organization as you set out to achieve your vision and goals. By demonstrating that you are listening and acting upon your employees' suggestions and ideas, you empower them to present new and interesting solutions to the problems your business faces. In the end, everybody learns and wins.