Your Queer Career: Effective Listening for the Queer Leader

In his latest column, Dr. Steve Yacovelli, (a.k.a. “The Gay Leadership Dude”) shares his expertise on submitted workplace questions from members of the LGBTQ+ Community. Have a question? See below!

Hello “Gay Leadership Dude”: I follow you on LinkedIn and enjoy the articles and content you share. Once you posted something about listening being a secret weapon for effective queer leadership (or something like that). What are your best tips for being a better listener? I often find myself listening to my colleagues and just wanting to tell them the solution to their issues and move on! ~Lesbian Listener

WHAT DID YOU SAY? (hahaha j/k). Thanks for writing, LL. As we end the year, do all those performance reviews, and provide feedback to our coworkers on how the year went and where we’re going next year, it’s time to leverage listening as the leadership superpower that it is. One of my favorite quotes about listening is by famed leadership guru Stephen Covey. He says, “Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.” Far too often we’re listening to someone, waiting for our time to pounce and interject what they should do or to solve their problem/issue without just listening and absorbing what is just being said (and sometimes not said). Smart Queer Leaders are those who are able to listen to others, understand their perspectives and needs, and make informed decisions based on what they hear. This is why listening is such a crucial skill for Leaders to have.

Listening is about more than just hearing what others say: it’s about actively engaging with them, understanding their point of view, and showing that you value their input. When Leaders are good listeners, they create an environment of trust and respect, which in turn leads to better collaboration, increased productivity, and higher morale among their teams. Listening is a leadership superpower! So, what are the best ways to leverage this superpower, LL? Here are five strategies to help you out:

(1) Engage in what’s called “Active Listening.” This is the process of actually not just listening with our ears but our whole body. Lean in, look at the speaker, and—when appropriate—paraphrase what you’re hearing from the speaker to make sure you are understanding their intent correctly. Paraphrasing involves a restatement of the information given by the speaker and demonstrates to them that you are both listening to them and actually understanding what they are saying. To improve your listening skills, try inserting paraphrasing statements such as:

(1) “I’m not sure I’m with you, but what I’m hearing is…”

(2) “If I’m hearing you correctly…”

(3) “So, from your perspective you see…”

(4) “Listening to you, it seems as if…”

(5) “So, as you see it, the thing you feel is most important is…”

(SIDE NOTE: as I shared in my last book, Pride Leadership, be careful not to overuse one of the above statements. I personally was a big fan of the “what I hear you saying is…” paraphrasing statement and, well, coworkers in cubicles around me would often make fun of my overuse of that phrase—even to this day. Pick a few paraphrasing statements and use them versus just one.)

(2) Use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions (OEQs) help start a dialogue versus a one-sided conversation. OEQs not only show that you’re listening (‘cause you’re asking the right question at the right time and not that “umm hmmm” response that we sometimes give our significant other while “listening” to them (I know you!), but it also engages the speaker. Give some of these OEQs a try:

(1) “Help me understand how you got to that perspective.”

(2) “What alternatives have you thought about?

(3) “What do you mean by…?”

(4) “What could some of the consequences be?”

(5) “What other possibilities are there?”

(6) “What were the considerations that led up to this…?”

(7) “Why is this element the most important aspect?”

(8) “How else could this situation be explained?”

Important point with OEQs: go back up and re-read that Stephen Covey quote again. Don’t ask OEQs simply with the intent to respond. Listen to the speaker’s response, the words they are using, how they are sharing their perspective, and most importantly, what’s not being said by the speaker.

(3) Leverage empathy for the person speaking. Try to put yourself in the speaker’s pumps and understand their perspective. Be a smart Queer Leader and show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and experiences; make it about them not about you. This will not just show you’re listening from the head and the heart but will also help build trust and rapport with the person speaking.

(4) Provide feedback to the person you’re listening to. A little different than acknowledging that you’re listening, provide your input and perspective when the person is done sharing. Yes, you can provide feedback using Strategies #1 and #2 (above), but also consider leveraging “Provide Feedback” on what the speaker has said, such as by summarizing the main points or asking follow-up questions. This can help to confirm that you have understood the speaker’s message and can also provide an opportunity for further discussion.

In Pride Leadership I shared my favorite feedback model—EECC or E2C2 Method. It’s a simple method to ensure that—when you’re providing feedback to someone, you include all the right “parts” (E= example, E= effect, C is either “change” or “continue”). When you’re listening and you want to provide your two cents, use this model (or the feedback model of your choice) to make your feedback clear and something on which the speaker can take action.

Finally (5) Remember perspective and bias. When listening, be sure you are hearing not just the speaker’s perspective but also remembering that we all have our own communication context with which we’re sharing our story; we’ve all our own shiny lens of reality that filters our stories. While you should be paying attention to the speaker at hand, understand that they’re presenting their perspective of the situation. Suspend your judgment (and your own personal biases) as best as you can until you’ve had the opportunity to hear the whole story, ask questions, and seek to truly understand. Assume good intent, but also feel free to seek out other perspectives, if possible, to understand the full complexity of the situation.

And one bonus piece of advice to maximize your listening superpowers, LL? Put the damn phone down. ;^)

HAVE A QUESTION FOR “THE GAY LEADERSHIP DUDE”? Submit at Please note the advice shared is for informational use only; it is not intended to replace or substitute any mental, financial, medical, legal or other professional advice. Full disclosure can be found at the website listed above.

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