Listening is a learned skill. Really!

There’s a difference between listening and simply hearing. Hearing is taking in information and putting it in the context of your own life. How does this help or hurt me? What do I gain from this information? Listening is completely different. Listening is about helping people self-discover their own solutions.

Here are three ways to become a better listener:

1. How can I bring value to this person?

Being a good listener is all about empathy. You need to try and understand the person you are talking to and how you can best help them. Ask yourself: “How do I make ___ feel valued and appreciated?” Remember, the goal of listening isn’t to solve problems…it’s to help others self-discover solutions.

2. Focus.

How do you feel when you’re talking to someone and—mid-conversation—they glance at their phone or watch? Maybe they didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable; they just got distracted by a notification. Ask yourself: “What’s most important here?” Is it your time? Or your ability to help the person? If it’s the ability to help the person, then put away your phone and be intentional with your focus.

3. Summarize their thoughts back to them.

The best way to end a listening session is to recap what you have heard back to the person. It’s as simple as stating: “So, to summarize, what I hear you saying is…” Allow the person to hear their own thoughts.

As leaders (with a formal title or not), listening is one of the key skills that will help you lead better. It’s not enough to hear about the problems and concerns of your team. Quickly give your best answer, and then return to your own work. It’s your job as a leader to guide your team to its own solutions. This leads to growth, and good leaders help their team grow.