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Monty Cerf on Why Active Listening is Vital to Leadership

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Monty Cerf

Monty Cerf believes that listening is one of the most powerful tools a leader can have. It is a key part of developing the emotional intelligence essential to effectiveness in the workplace. When a leader shows that they are a reliable listener, they gain the trust of their employees and their clients and foster loyalty that will help a business retain talent and clients. Recognizing that the ubiquity of digital communications makes listening harder than ever, here Monty Cerf discusses why leaders should make it a priority to actively listen. In the experience of Monty Cerf, many leaders can go their whole careers without being taught how to effectively listen, and it can stunt substantially their potential.

Active listening is the act of fully immersing oneself in what another person has to say. By being an active listener, a leader can better understand not only what someone is saying, but the often hidden meaning behind their words as well. Leaders of all kinds should learn to silence the noise around them. This alone can be a challenge as they are often the busiest people. No doubt it can be hard to maintain complete focus on another person when there are any number of competing demands on one's time and focus. Monty Cerf suggests budgeting time for concentrating completely on one's conversations. If someone starts speaking to you if you can't provide them with their full attention at the moment, it would be better to suggest a time that might be scheduled for a more focused conversation. When the conversation does occur, cell phones can be silenced, laptops shut, and undivided attention given.

Whether it be with employees or with clients, leaders often make the mistake of focusing on being understood, which leads to a lack of focus on understanding the person with whom they are interacting. Monty Cerf notes that it is natural to want to be heard and understood. But it is the natural role of the leader to work toward understanding the problems of others. It's impossible to provide a colleague or a client with the best solution when he or he does not fully comprehend the challenges that they are facing. To put active listening skills to the test, leaders must defend against the habit of formulating a response while another person is still speaking. If this happens, all focus falls on waiting for the other person to stop talking so the leader can speak. Instead, a leader should end this habit to fully absorb what the person is saying with their words and their body before formulating a response, whether or not you are in agreement with the person you are listening to. Body language, facial cues, and nervous ticks often work in tandem to tell a much deeper story. When a leader starts to see and absorb these subtleties, they may develop more meaningful and effective solutions to the actual challenges at hand while showing greater empathy to those who should be heard.

Monty Cerf notes that a person looking to improve their active listening skills can help themselves by asking questions that not only lead the other person to provide more insights but also shows the other person that their leader actually cares. Employees and clients alike want to know that their opinions and feelings are heard. Questions like, Can you expand on that, please? and Why do you think that? show the other person that the leader is genuinely invested in their point of view. Other, open-ended or specific questions can be employed as well. Monty Cerf notes that reading body language is often critical, and can help the conversation on track to ensure that a question won't cause the recipient any discomfort.

Monty Cerf also recommends suspending quick judgment. Clients or employees need to feel deeply that they can speak their minds and will not be summarily judged. People easily pick up on interrupting signals as a sign that the person they are speaking with has formed their opinion already. It's acceptable, of course, to have a different point of view. But true leaders understand that, even if a person thinks differently from them, it does not mean that their perspective is easily dismissed. Even if that different perspective is not the best one, persuading, for example, a colleague of a different course of action is much easier if that person believes they have been listened to thoroughly.

Not every conversation is going to be a triumph just by using active listening. I wish leadership was that simple! However, Monty Cerf notes that it is a skill that can serve all of us well over time. Most people spend more than half their time listening, but they only retain a small fraction of that information afterward. Active listening is really a tool to expand one's emotional intelligence. It just is a part of that all important tool kit for all of our interpersonal interactions. But it is a critical part of that tool kit.






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