Be the Last to Speak: Empathize by Listening to the Team

By Atty. Aris R. Mejia

Communication is one of the most important elements to ensure the success of a team. In communicating with a team, we often use skills we learned in school, such as reading, writing, and speaking. In fact, we’ve learned to utilize these three skills since our primary school days. 

But what about listening? Listening is something that isn’t formally taught in school, but is one of the most important and one of the most difficult skills to learn.

As a leader, whether in a formal or in an ad hoc setting, you’re expected to have a strong voice; but it is necessary as well to know when it’s time to listen. While leaders are characterized by their strong opinions, decisive action, and a go-getter attitude, it is equally important for leaders to sit down and listen to the voices of others.

As a leader myself, this is often something that is a struggle for me, as I have become more used to talking than listening to others. But why is listening so important? As the leader, you’re expected to have the most knowledge and experience, so what makes it so important to hear others out? Each team member has had different experiences and different perspectives. This diversity of thought enriches any project and makes any effort a true team effort. You should be open to the opinions and thoughts of others and not merely impose your own ideas, because a leader does not merely order: a leader leads others.

To truly listen to another, you should not only hear with your ears, but also with your eyes and heart. You should sense reactions and read between the lines for meanings: you should listen to behavior as well. 

This type of listening is powerful, as it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of influencing others with your assumptions of their thoughts, feelings, motives, and interpretations, you should sense the reality inside another team member’s head and heart. You should listen to understand, not merely reply. Focus on receiving and not merely giving.

How do we teach ourselves to listen effectively?

Make it a priority

When you’re listening to someone speak, it’s easy to get distracted. Always make a conscious commitment to listen actively. To achieve this effectively, you should make time to listen without distractions. Do not rush the person you are listening to, let them speak and allow them to finish their thought fully; do not cut the conversation abruptly. You should be the last to speak.

Being the last to speak ensures that every contribution and every idea has been fleshed out and that everyone else has had their chance to speak in turn and build upon the ideas of others. Be the last to speak.

Know yourself

As I said, leaders tend to talk a lot. You should not be faulted, but you must learn to unlearn this tendency to talk to be able to listen to your team effectively. It’s difficult, but not impossible.

The first thing you will have to do to unlearn this habit is to acknowledge that you do have this habit. As a leader, talking isn’t necessarily bad, as this is a critical tool for communicating with others. What you should acknowledge is that you should be the last to speak.

Ask Questions and Look for Nonverbal Cues

Speaking last does not mean that you don’t speak during the entire conversation. As an effective listener, you should be able to validate by asking questions and looking for non-verbal cues. If you don’t understand what others are saying, ask clarifying questions and don’t make assumptions. As a leader, you may ask questions like: “Here’s what I thought you said, is that correct?” You can even acknowledge and express gratitude for the input of your team member, regardless of how you feel about the content of what they’ve expressed. Listen not only to what the team member said but “listen” to non-verbal cues you’ve seen; non-verbal cues may reveal the answer they wanted to say after all.

Be the last to speak by closing with a summary of points heard and the next steps that must be achieved. Make sure that you heard and understood others correctly. By speaking last, you can verify and validate what they truly wanted to say.

Finally, in order to put the “be the last to speak” principle to practice, you should honestly assess your listening skills. Make listening a priority by giving sufficient time without distractions, ask questions to verify and validate that you understood correctly, look for nonverbal cues to find true meanings, and acknowledge information shared to you even if you do not agree. By speaking last, you let go of the assumption that you know all the answers. Be the last to speak.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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