6 Positive Phrases Servant-Leaders use when Listening


“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.” ~Simon Sinek

Since there was so much good information in chapter eight, Servant-Leadership Characteristics in Organizational Life by Don DeGraaf, Colin Tilley, and Larry Neal, I decided to blog again on this chapter from the book we are using as a guide,Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness by Larry C. Spears and Michelle Lawrence.

Of the ten core competencies of Servant-Leadership, the foundational competency is listening. Not just listening, but authentic listening. That’s why is it the first core competency because it serves as the vehicle through which the other competencies can be nurtured. Servant-Leaders understand that great leaders are good communicators who can speak eloquently and more efficiently, but they are excellent and empathetic listeners.

One way that Servant-Leaders can develop listening skills is to practice reflective listening. Reflective listening includes three components;

  • Nonverbal clues: Learning to be aware of nonverbal communication in yourself and others
  • Understanding the content: Understanding the speaker’s main ideas and checking them out
  • Understanding feelings: Listening for and being aware of the feelings a person may have when communicating

And if you are like me, you’ve had to learn that remarks like, “I see” or “Oh, really,” or “You did?” are noncommittal responses and is not considered reflective or empathetic listening! Door-openers are responses that engage the person speaking and makes you an active listener. For example, below are some door-opening phrases that are either positive phrases or killer phrases. See if you have ever said any of the phrases.

Positive Phrases                                                                                 Killer Phrases

Keep talking, you’re on track.                                             The problem with that idea…

Keep going.                                                                                It’s not a bad idea, but…

I’m glad you brought that up.                                             You haven’t considered…

How can we build on that?                                                   We’ve tried that before.

That’s an interesting idea.                                                   You don’t understand the problem.

Let’s try it.                                                                                Has anyone else ever tried it?

Servant-Leaders understand that when we actively listen and use the positive phrases rather than the negative ones, we confirm for the listener that we hear and feel what they are saying. And don’t we all want to be heard and understood?

My son participated in an assignment this week whereby he brought the REAL BABY home. It was a part of his home economics class, the Real Baby Simulation Experience. It was fun. And he was tired. I got the chance to actively listen to him as he was frustrated at certain points of the experience where the baby was fussy. I stayed the course with him and listened quietly.

I offered him suggestions and coached him through it. He told me he could handle the baby through the night. And he did. He never came to get me. The next morning, he was so proud of himself. He did it! And I am proud of him too! He was actively listening for the baby’s cry and immediately began figuring out what the baby’s needs were. He was attentive and caring.

I always thought he was a loving child. And even as a teenager (and the teenager-ish attitude at times), his compassion, and authentic love showed through in his care and concern for the Baby. What a great experience for him…..and for me too!

To Authentic Listening,

Dr. Crystal

What is Servant Leadership?

For three decades, servant leadership was an explored philosophy used as a leadership style for organizations in the business industry, the education sector, and in various church denominations.  The seminal works of Robert K. Greenleaf established servant leadership in 1977.  Over 30 years later, the definition of servant leadership comes from a different perspective than other leadership theories.  A thorough review of Greenleaf’s writings explicated 10 characteristics of servant leadership: (a) listening, (b) empathy, (c) healing, (d) awareness, (e) persuasion, (f) conceptualization, (g) foresight, (h) stewardship, (i) building community, and (j) commitment to the growth of the follower.  Servant leaders guide his or her actions for the best common good of the employee, and the organization.

Greenleaf explored the leader as a servant and postulated that the servant leader is searching and listening, always hopeful for something better.  Possessing an attitude of service is critical to leadership in Greenleaf’s view.  To practice silence and have openness to uncertainty is necessary for the servant leader.  A deep sense of empathy and a tolerance for imperfection in people is important to the servant leader.  One characteristic of a servant leader is to bridge the gap with his or her own sense of intuition and develop a high level of trust for the people he or she serves.  A leader who exemplifies servant leadership can see the growth of servant leadership in the people served.  Greenleaf defined servant leaders as passing a test if the people are wiser, freer, and healthier.  If the people served by the leader become servant leaders, the leader is a practitioner of servant leadership.

A quality of servant leaders is listening to and understanding other people.  Greenleaf affirmed that to be a servant leader, one must become disciplined in listening and realizing that listening comes first in helping anyone with anything.  Listening aligns behavior and cognition with everyday activities and is most effective when it makes connects with others, and involves a give-and-take relationship.  Through the act of listening, and providing feedback, relationships develop and mature, creating leaders.  The servant leader who is a skilled communicator displays a core competency of servant leadership.

Servant leadership also encompasses empathy.  Kouzes and Posner (2007) found empathy is critical to effective leadership; along with listening, empathy, and trust, servant leaders make organizations functional and influence others within the organization.  Greenleaf claimed servant leaders have an unqualified acceptance and a tolerance of imperfection.  Empathy allows the followers to expand consciousness and recognize their acceptance for who they are.  Taken together, listening, empathy, and trust allow servant leaders to facilitate relationships and demonstrate attributes such as trust, integrity, accountability, and authentic concern for people.

Servant leadership as a prominent theory for leadership indeed that ignites from within.  Namaste.