Have you been in meetings where half the attendees are on their mobiles/laptops answering queries, where managers impatiently talk over others or can’t wait for someone to finish so that they can put their point across?  Most managers know they need to listen and could probably accept that they don’t listen enough.  And we can probably all come up with instances where the consequences have been significant.

So why don’t we listen when we need to or should do?

Research by the University of Southern California found that many managers will stop listening when they feel defensive, lack confidence and feel they need to protect their status.  Participants were asked to provide solutions to rising customer complaints, with the Head of Maintenance primed to suggest an alternative solution which was better in the long run.  Those managers who had previously been given feedback to suggest they were not competence in their management role did not seek his help, were less likely to listen to this new viewpoint and where not convinced by his expertise.  It was thought that there was a perceived threat from the Head of Maintenance to the manager’s managerial status and level of confidence.

This seems like a good example of why leaders need to have a high level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.  The motivational need of “significance” – i.e. looking out for a threat to the perceived level of status and/or not wanting to look bad in front of others – could well be at play here.

Knowing when these “threats” might affect them could well prove vital in times of crisis management, developing new strategies for the business, reviewing statistics, improving customer service and internal processes.

Maintaining the right level of confidence through emotional intelligence would also benefit the leader at times when they need to encourage creativity and innovation from the team.  This would enable leaders to listen effectively to new ideas, ask questions and seek help.

To be able to get the best results, managers and leaders benefit from being able to listen effectively and not let their emotions and insecurities impact their decisions.  To do this, feeling confident enough in their role and abilities, enables them to be willing and able to listen to others.  They can recognise when they are feeling this threat and know how to stop it before it takes hold.

To improve a leader’s confidence, I’d recommend they obtain objective feedback – and listen to and take note of what they are saying. I’d also suggest that they develop an awareness of circumstances when they feel a sense of threat to their status. By knowing that this could be an issue for any decision-making, take some time to review meetings you’re in and list out what you experienced.

Being aware gives you choices.  The effort that’s put in to improve listening skills will far outweigh the benefits to leaders, their team and their organisation.


If you would like to find out how an executive coach can help in the development of listening skills, through self-awareness and emotional intelligence, then please contact us.

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