When we listen, are we afraid of what we might hear?

Are you guilty as charged?

How often to you ‘half listen’ to a conversation – sometimes responding with yeah, mmhmm or a head nod?

I have kids (now grown up) and I remember what it was like when they came in from school – full of information about their day – who they played with; what the teacher said; the intricacies of their young friendships and the arguments that ensued.  Sometimes it was a real joy to listen and hear.  But other times, I was busy and caught up in my own activities – and I learned the skill of ‘half listening’ and making the appropriate sounds at the appropriate times.

It is not always different now!
Most of the time we are not truly listening when others talk. We only scan for either agreement or threat. Often we ‘half listen’ either simply to have our opinions validated and marking time until we can jump in and start talking ourselves, OR we scan for threats which immediately lead us to grab the airtime to validate our own ego (and thus shutting the original speaker down)

Knowledge and insights are not gained by talking, but by listening, and good leaders are good listeners. They lead with listening to challenge themselves and to learn from others. They know that silence is not the absence of words, but the presence of focus.

However, leaders all too often cannot remain silent long enough to really hear what others are saying. Research shows that leaders on average interrupt employees after only 18 seconds. When we choose to speak rather than listen more, we risk losing our audience. We also lose the opportunity to ‘hear’ (and see) reactions and to truly listen to what the other side is thinking.

Listening is not just about hearing what is being said. It requires a deferment of judgment until you have fully understood, an ability to empathize so that the speaker feels enabled to express him or herself fully, and a willingness to resist the temptation of giving in to old habits around talking and listening.

Good listeners pay attention, master the ability to “read the room,” and sense when it is time to listen and when it is time to talk. Leading with listening requires that I suspend my judgment and put myself in a vulnerable place, not because I am passive, overstepped or forgotten, but because I want to prioritise being inclusive and letting others have a moment to share.


So – what are the #QEDLeadershipLens tips for listening deeply, intentionally, and authentically?

  1. Be open to all things positive, critical, and indifferent.
  2. Let the other person speak into the silence and listen for the truth behind his or her words (i.e. listen to the body language and non-verbal cues also).
  3. Avoid ‘firing back’ with comments that might inhibit others from speaking honestly.

Acknowledge what you have heard – which is, most likely, more than has been said.

Only then – once the other person feels seen and heard –  offer your view. You will be surprised at how much others will appreciate the opportunity to share.


If you have any thoughts on the above, we would love to hear from you.