With so much focus on presenting and outward communication in business, it’s rare we ever turn the conversation toward ourselves and our ability to listen. However, most experts will argue that listening is an even more important skill, and the ultimate key to success and advanced leadership.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, stated in his popular LinkedIn post, Best Advice: Listen More Than You Talk, “…listening is one of the most important skills for any teacher, parent, leader, entrepreneur, or, well, just about anyone who has a pulse… I am endlessly surprised by what new and useful information I can gather just by keeping my ears open.”

So ask yourself: Do you listen effectively? It might seem like a fairly straightforward and simple question. But listening is actually a skill that, when enacted effectively, can lead to a range of better outcomes for how you engage with your team, how senior leadership perceives your capabilities, and your overall progress in your career. The bottom line? Developing an ability to listen effectively can be the difference between where you are now and where you want to go.

Minda Zetlin stated, “…in our information-driven world, how much you know makes more difference to your long-term success than . . . almost anything else. A person who’s talking is giving away information—often more than he or she intended. A person who’s listening is receiving information. Who gets the best deal in that exchange?”

Much like other areas in our professional lives, advancing your effective listening skills can begin by acknowledging what better listening skills are and taking small steps to enhance your approach. The first step in developing great listening skills is being aware of the various types of listening. 

The 3 Effective Listening Forms

Effective listening takes on 3 forms:

Passive

Hearing word. Focusing on ourselves and not the speaking.

Active

Showing up fully, acknowledging what the speaker is saying, and employing empathy.

Contextual

Fully showing and observing cues, engaging with the speaker, engaging your intuition (i.e. reading the room), and advancing the conversation.

Effective Listening Examples

Here’s a simple example of how these forms of effective listening play out in a conversation.

Speaker: “The timeline on my project keeps slipping and it’s making us look bad to the client”

Passive response: “I hate when that happens. It’s happened on a project of mine, too.”

Active response: “I’m sorry that’s happening, it must be frustrating for you.”

Contextual: “That must be really frustrating for you. What do you feel the team can to do to help with the client relationship and correct the timeline?”

Applying Effective Listening to Every Day Life

Now that you understand the various forms of effective listening, pay close attention as you go through your day. Which form do you employ most? Try to catch when you’re passively listening and ask yourself how you can be more active or contextual. More importantly, take note of when you are active or contextual, and the outcome you receive—the response will likely be better. In the end, enacting advanced listening skills leads to:

  • Nailing things the first time
  • Catching problems much earlier
  • Avoiding costly mistakes
  • Creating better connections with your team
  • Gaining a deeper understanding of what’s really going on with your colleagues

The well-known philanthropist, Bernard Baruch, said it best when he said, “Most successful people I’ve known do more listening than talking.”

Take the necessary steps to begin actively contextually, or effective listening. People will respond better to you and your ideas, and most importantly, you may learn something you didn’t already know. What could be better than that?