Communication Tips for Servant Leaders: Do You Fail to Communicate Because You Fail To Listen?

Effective Listening for Servant LeadersThe irony of effective communication skills is that the most powerful tool at your disposal is not speaking but listening. If you fail to listen you will fail to communicate.

This post provides tips on how you, as a servant leader, can listen effectively when trying to communicate with another so that you can answer the fundamental question your listener has: WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? Fortunately, in the context of Christian leadership, this is not about unholy gain but about more basic issues such as answering the question ” How do I know what I need to do?”

You will have seen the reverse play out often and most of us will have experienced it at sometime. You meet someone at a meeting, a conference or somewhere similar. Reading their name badge you engage them with a friendly, “Hello, Fred what do you do?” Five minutes later they have not come up for breath. You are wondering how you can escape without being rude. They don’t even leave enough space for you to excuse yourself because you need to escape – sorry, I mean circulate.

That person has demonstrated no interest in you at all. You feel trapped and develop a desperate need to escape and leave them to their own self-interest. Had they engaged with you in return, shown interest and dialogued instead of monlogued, you would have had a different opinion of them all together. In fact, if they had built rapport with you then you would probably still be engaged in an interesting conversation.

Servant Leaders Engage in Responsible Listening

A key to effective communication is listening to the other person and of course, in order to listen to the other person, you have to give them opportunity to speak. This is why in ‘Communications Tips for Servant Leaders: Are you an Engaging Speaker or “Mogadon Man”‘? I recommended:

  • Speaking in short segments; it allows you to come up for air and provides space for the other person to say something and;
  • Asking questions of the other person.

When you have a message to convey its only through listening that you can be certain that you have communicated the value of what you have to say; that you have answered the other person’s primary question, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM).

WIIFM may seem terribly mercenary and unchristian but its not. It is simply acknowledging the fact that what we have to say must mean something to the other person, to have some value, otherwise it will have no effect. The listener may be polite but the moment he goes away what you said is forgotten. The thing of value to them may be as straight forward as the information necessary for them to complete a task. If you don’t give it when they need it they would rather spend the time working out what they need to do. As a servant leader your goal is to enable the listener to achieve their full potential and making sure they have the information they need is central to that. Its only when you give the other person the opportunity to speak and you have asked them about their needs can you be sure that you have captured their interest and answered their questions.

Why is it called “Responsible Listening?” because as well as making ourselves responsible for ensuring that the other person has understood us, we take on the responsibility to ensure that we have understood the other person as well. Listening to the other person is at least as important as speaking when you are trying to communicate.

Building Rapport – Listening Completes the Feedback Loop

Listening enables you to establish rapport with the person with whom you seek to communicate. It proves to them that you are interested in them and not simply yourself or your own purposes. In so doing, you demonstrate that the other person is important. That is really important to you, because people appreciate and respond to being listened to and feeling important. It has been said, that in the western world, that the next best thing to being loved is being listened too.

When it comes to your desire to communicate with someone, only when that level of rapport is achieved will they be happy to talk with you. Why? Because it is enjoyable and they know they will not be wasting their time. Your attempt to communicate with them will move not just from monologue to dialogue but into conversation. Information will be voluntarily shared and comments will be shaped and purposed to meet each other’s need. That is, to understand and answer each other’s WIIFM question. Its worth remembering that you both have a WIIFM question: You invest your time in the conversation because you desire some response. The other person does the same because they anticipate some kind of benefit; even if it’s simply being able to follow instructions sufficiently well to do a good a job.

How do you show someone that you are listening to them?

Firstly, you need to provide your partner in the conversation with evidence that you have understood what they have said. This means that you need to reflect what they have said by restating it for clarification or asking questions that develop the theme and extend the information being shared with you.

Secondly, you must adapt what you say so that your message is applied to meet the other party’s needs – i.e. answer their WIIFM question. In a team situation, perhaps you will make sure that the information you provide is clearly explained so that the team understands what actions are required to be successful.


Claybury International’s Colin Buckland tells of one occasion when he was teaching an Responsible Communications Skills seminar. One of the guys in the group was a newlywed. It seems that his new wife was always saying, “You don’t listen to me.” So, what he did was to apply these listening and feedback skills when he phoned her that night. (The seminar was a few countries away from her in Europe.) He started to practice those skills there and then, and the next day he reported that his wife had said, “What is it that you’re doing in that seminar? You seem to be listening to me like you’ve never done before.” He was simply using these skills.

Take a moment to think through the people that you communicate with. How good a listener are you?

Give responsible listening a go and see what happens. In your next conversation with anyone try that feedback loop.

  • Ask questions
  • Clarify what you understood
  • Adapt what you say to meet their need related to this conversation.

The Effective Communications Series

This article is one of series on effective communications in the context of being a servant leader in a Christian setting. You can access the others through the following links:

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