Listening As A Tool for Building Trust

I’ve been given a lot of credit over the years for being a good listener. It’s funny to think of listening as a praiseworthy action since it feels a lot like inaction by way of sitting still with your ears open. Of course, there’s more to listening than sitting there doing nothing—you actually need to hear, understand, and demonstrate that you empathize with what’s being said through body language or replies that suggest you truly listened. If it were so easy, more people would do it, we wouldn’t praise people for it, and I’m certain the world would be a better place.

I don’t believe our culture has instilled within most people a practical value in listening. In grade school, we’re taught to follow instructions, do what we’re told, and succeed. Listening in school means success. And we were taught that way so that we could follow orders in the workplace. The thing is, most leaders and public personas take positions of power by explicitly not listening and not following instructions. They tend to be louder, always need to shove their two cents in, and amass power through the silencing or censorship of others. Therefore, we’re conditioned to survive in the real world by piping up, injecting our opinions, and “listening” by talking back. We live in an especially noisy, wasteful, and stressful world as a result.

While a great deal of leaders get away with being loud, true power in leadership comes from followers who are trusting and loyal. Sure, you can earn followers through a string of wins and successes, but winning alone cannot serve you as a sustainable formula for loyalty. It takes something more, something special. It takes empathy for your followers and delivering on your promises to them to earn their trust. To do that, you first need to hear them. You need to understand what their needs are. And, to confirm that you heard them, you need to make and keep a promise on their behalf.

To even get to that point, you need to make yourself available to the team and take the time to listen. Set aside more time than they might expect. More often than not, shutting your mouth and leaving extra space for someone else to keep talking can lead the person to divulge more than he or she might otherwise. Awkward silences tend to shake out extra bits of honesty. That way, you can get to the heart of truth. Having shared with you a few deeper truths, the person doing the talking will start to feel more and more comfortable sharing and you’ll find yourself in a stronger position of trust. Make a habit of listening and you may very well earn the loyalty of all by just keeping your lips sealed. Again, this is overly simplistic since it still takes action to close the listening loop—we cannot remain leaders by only hearing and then doing nothing. Still, you’ll be surprised to do a little bit of extra listening today than normal and hear more truth come out as a result.