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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

When you're speaking, you're not listening.

Listening requires putting others' agendas and perceptions first. It's also a demonstration of your commitment to understanding not only what another person is saying but also their intentions.

The micro skill of listening is the art of seeking to fully understand the words being said by another, not through your ears but through the person who is speaking. Listening can help strengthen relationships at work and at home.

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to think that they must have something to say or have to be talking to demonstrate leadership. The paradox is that less is often more and that by listening and asking a few simple, open-ended questions, a manager will be perceived by employees as being credible and trusted.

No leader can be successful without their employees' contributions. There may be no more important skill for a manager than listening. Listening provides evidence that you are interested in another person's point of view, and it increases the likelihood that you are clear on what they are saying and understand their point of view.

In a 30-minute meeting with your team, what percentage of the time might you be talking versus listening? If you are likely talking for more than 15 minutes, there's a good chance your team feels you are not a good listener.

To become a good listener, the first step is to want to be a good listener and to understand the benefits of being a good listener. Most of us like being listened to by people who report to us, as well as by our peers and leaders.

A manager can take training programs, such as communicating with impact, to develop their communications skills. However, improving listening ability requires a decision and the discipline to listen more with intention.

Here are some tips to help you better develop your listening skills as a leader.

Talk less, listen more.

It's normal for a person to find it difficult to talk less and listen more when they're aiming to impress others. Why? Because most people feel that if they are not sharing what they know they are not adding value or demonstrating their competencies. This urge can create an internal tension and pressing desire to spell out their point of view. As a result, the person is thinking about what they are going to say, rather than listening to what others are saying. To shift this view, you need to accept that the concept that listening is not a sign of weakness but one of strength and respect.

Set listening goals for team meetings.

When meeting with employees, a manager's effectiveness can be improved by talking less and listening more. The first thing to do is to notice what percentage of the time you are talking. Once you get your benchmark, set a target for the percentage you want to be listening and monitor your progress over eight weeks. It's a best practice to check in with employees whether they believe that you are listening and understanding their key messages.

Imagine you're being recorded.

During any one-on-one discussions, imagine that you're being recorded and evaluate your listening on a scale of one (low) to five (high) after each interaction. The goal is to shape your listening effectiveness. Listening etiquette means not interrupting others, not dominating air time, not making judgmental statements, and not assuming you understand what and how others think.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link: