Before it is too late, level up your listening skills

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”  — Doug Larson

You can’t lead well without being a great listener.  

Most leaders are good listeners most of the time, but if this describes you, it means you aren’t a good listener. The times you let yourself get distracted are making people feel like they aren’t your top priority. 

It’s an easy trap to fall into.

About 12 years ago, after I had built a reputation for successfully leading customer service teams, I had the opportunity to manage my first retail team. The transition went smoothly for the most part. I was focusing on strengths and had a team bought into the changes we were making. Our team was not only crushing the goals set for us, we were hitting the big ambitious goals we set for ourselves. 

I felt pretty good about myself as a leader, and was doing a pretty good job making sure everyone had an opportunity to be heard. Then, I was given a dose of truth that made me reflect on a big performance gap. 

A sales associate told me, “Jacob, this is the second time in a row we’ve had a one-on-one, and you spent the entire time replying to emails.” 


I was busy trying to get caught up and thought I was multitasking. But the outcome was making someone feel like I did not value them. 

How many other people had I made feel this way?

Here is the truth for leaders: When we allow ourselves to be distracted during conversations, we send the message that we have more important things to do than be there for our people. It shows that we don’t value them or their time.

Great leaders understand that active listening is the cornerstone of effective communication, trust-building, and relationship management. As your team and organization grow, it becomes increasingly challenging to be present and attentive in each conversation. 

Why We Suck at Listening

We all struggle with listening for these reasons:

  • We’re obsessed with our thoughts 🧠
  • Meeting overload 😴
  • Stereotyping people 😬
  • Low EQ 🤦
  • Jumping to conclusions 🤔
  • Juggling tasks like a clown 🤹

Are you actively engaged when in conversation? Do you identify traits of what it means to be actively engaged in conversation? The good news is it is pretty easy to stand out with a few simple changes. 

The Leader’s Lens Listening Guide 

  1. Set Expectations: At the beginning of a conversation, communicate your intention to listen actively and attentively. If needed, take a moment to wrap up any distractions before diving into the discussion. Establishing expectations allows for a smoother conversation and helps the speaker feel more at ease.
  2. Ask Clarifying Questions: Demonstrate your engagement by asking questions that delve into specific points, showing your interest and desire to understand. To avoid interrupting the speaker, wait for natural pauses to ask your questions. These questions can help uncover underlying issues or concerns and encourage the speaker to provide more context or detail.
  3. Highlight Achievements: Recognize and praise accomplishments, strengths, or obstacles overcome during the conversation, emphasizing their significance and encouraging further success. Be genuine in your compliments, and take note of these achievements for future reference, reinforcing your attentiveness and commitment to their growth.
  4. Practice Active Listening: Focus on what the speaker is saying and avoid formulating your response while they’re still talking. Give non-verbal cues like nodding, maintaining eye contact, and providing verbal affirmations such as “I understand” or “That makes sense” to show that you’re following along.
  5. Ask Before Giving Advice: Ensure that your advice is welcome and appropriate by first asking the listener if they are seeking guidance. This approach not only demonstrates respect for their autonomy but also allows you to tailor your advice to their specific needs or concerns.
  6. Listen First, Then Decide: When seeking input on a decision, make time to listen before making your choice, allowing you to demonstrate that your decision was informed by the feedback provided. This approach can lead to better decision-making and a more cohesive, collaborative team environment.
  7. Be Mindful of Body Language: Pay attention to your body language and facial expressions during conversations, as they can convey your level of engagement and interest. Maintain an open posture, lean in slightly, and avoid crossing your arms or looking away from the speaker.
  8. Eliminate Distractions: To be fully present in a conversation, minimize distractions by silencing your phone, closing your laptop, or finding a quiet, private space for the discussion. Your undivided attention signals respect and commitment to the conversation.

Listening is KEY to building an empire and cultivating killer relationships. Put these strategies to work, and watch your business and connections EXPLODE! Keep going, stay focused, and never stop listening.  What is one change you can make this week that will make you a better listener?

Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit

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