Real Listening: Really?

Leon Theron – October 2023


A short personal story to provide some context: a close family member recently underwent an orthopaedic procedure. We advised friends and family beforehand. After the procedure, many of our friends and family were quite surprised that the event had taken place and wanted to know why they weren’t advised beforehand.


Business leaders in the post-pandemic world face a multitude of challenges that were less critical before: supply chain disruption, employees working from home, loss of important customers and in South Africa, the serious decimation of vital infrastructure. In an article published by Fortune on 17 October 2023, the following 4 items were described as the current most-required leader characteristics: compassion, empathy, learning and listening.


So what is real listening? I am purposely ignoring terms such as active listening or deep listening, because they are sometimes used as an excuse for not really listening.


Business leaders are all about bringing about change that will lead to customers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders achieving their own needs and desires. This requires the business leader to build relationships with these stakeholders. Relationships are a result of the ability to listen.


Business leaders often fail to listen because they believe that they already know all the answers. Or because they are often distracted by other events during a conversation. Or because they are crafting a smart retort whilst the speaker is only midway with his or her statement. Or because they don’t care, caused by a lack of empathy or superiority.


It is important that the business leader learns to enter into real conversation with coworkers, customers and suppliers. The underlying purpose of these real conversations must always be to allow the other person to connect and grow. Communication has only taken place when there is shared meaning between the listener and the speaker.


The easiest way for the business leader to improve his or her real listening ability is to shut-up more often. Rather than interrupt, ask questions that will enhance the communication: “how” and “what” and the powerful “what do you think”.


Learning to really listen is a gratifying and exciting experience. Tackle this challenge with relish and enjoy a fuller and more effective leader adventure.



Seth Godin: The Song of Significance
Kate Murphy: You’re not listening
Tracey Swanepoel: Leading for Engagement

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