Memo to Leaders: Stop Talking and Start Listening! Four Tips for Building Trust

“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”
Proverbs 18:13

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of  their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

This is one in a series of LeaderChat articles on the topic of trust by Randy Conley, Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit the Leading with Trust blog or follow Randy on Twitter @RandyConley.

5 thoughts on “Memo to Leaders: Stop Talking and Start Listening! Four Tips for Building Trust

  1. Thanks Randy. Another great topic. I see this a lot and speak about it and write about it, myself. It’s time for the real so called “Leaders” to start actually doing this. I think it all starts with “EGO”. WE, as leaders, have to work on losing, removing, or at least reducing our ego. Only then is it possible to truly and completely CARE and Listen to others.

    When you CARE for your people, your people will CARE for you.

    Take CARE and thanks for another great piece.


    • Hi Al. I agree with you that many times our ego gets in the way of truly listening and valuing the input of others. Being a good listener is one of the quickest and easiest ways to build trust, respect, and rapport with people and show that you really care.

      Thanks for your comments. Take care.


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