By Zheila Pouraghabagher

So you want to be a strong leader? Start by listening more and talking less. When someone approaches you with an idea or problem, you want to help — that’s what leaders do, right? But before you jump right in and start to throw out your own ideas and solutions, you need to really listen to the person.

As your brain moves through its problem-solving mode, it’s easy to slip into the habit of firing back the first ideas that pop into your head. When this happens, it’s likely that you’re not fully listening and instead are engaged in what is known as partial listening. Partial listening occurs when you dip into your head for a bit to figure out what they really mean, or you’re busy trying to formulate questions for them. Your brain is asking “What is this person saying?” and “What does this really mean?” Yet, you’re not actually listening to the person speaking and, as a result, you’re missing out on essential information.



Partial listening is detrimental to problem solving. For example, the person seeking advice may be giving you valuable information that you need to formulate your own opinion. But if you’re only partial listening, you’re wasting brain power by coming up with solutions that the person may have already thought about.

Here are three tips to know if you are fully listening. You can even jot these down on a Post-it to keep on your desk in preparation for an off-the-cuff discussion.

  1. Ask questions and provide comments that correlate to what the speaker just said. When you’re echoing the person’s words, it’s clear that you are engaged and actively listening — and therefore absorbing all of the information you need to provide advice.
  2. Write down your thoughts and questions while remaining engaged. If you find yourself getting distracted by thoughts or questions, write them down on paper. This frees up your brain power so you can be present with the speaker and you won’t stress about forgetting your ideas or questions.
  3. Silence is ok. Don’t feel like you have to keep the conversation going by talking! Give the speaker some space to think through what they want to say. In fact, they might even come up with their own revelation during this silent time.

Bottom Line
Active listening comes from letting others talk and then providing feedback based on what they’re telling you. As a strong leader, your brain is probably processing at a million miles a minute. By taking a step back and letting the person seeking advice speak, you will get to the heart of the matter more quickly and your opinion will be useful to solving the issue.

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