Getting an earful of what you don’t want to hear is never fun. Thinking back to your childhood, if you were ever in trouble with your mother you understand a thing or two about how her context and perspective influenced her interpretation of events. It’s probable that you also learned how to listen attentively and bite your tongue until it was your turn to talk.

Those “mother” lessons serve nonprofit board members and CEOs very well when dealing with issues that arouse the passions of others. Take the issue of context. My dictionary defines context as the circumstances or events that form the environment within which something takes place. It also defines perspective as a particular evaluation of a situation or facts from one person’s point of view. When combined, which they always are, context and perspective lead to beliefs and interpretations that at times challenge and perplex even the most skillful communicators.
Now, just to up the ante on listening, let’s throw in culture – the beliefs, customs, and practices that drive the communication style of a particular group of people. The impact of culture on how people communicate varies greatly ranging from passive, aggressive, assertive, or some combination thereof. Understanding the culture of other speakers invites a deeper and more accurate appreciation of their messages.

So how can a leader wade through all of these communication variables and succeed as a listener? Let’s look at three universal listening strategies.

Give your undivided attention to each person who speaks. Attention is the
underpinning of successful communication and is a professional expectation for all leaders.

Body Language
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen leaders roll their eyes, fidget in their chairs, or somehow disregard others who are speaking to them. Leaders are expected to act appropriately at all times. The premise here is that professional behavior on the part of a listener invites professional behavior on the part of the speaker.

Restate the Other Person’s Points
An accurate summarization that incorporates the context and perspective of the person or persons who have spoken, communicates sincerity and understanding on the part of the listener. It also provides opportunities to correct factual errors and to share other perspectives on the issues at hand.

Listening, like other leadership skills, can improve with time, practice, and commitment to important lessons taught by our mothers.

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