How Studying Music Can Improve Leadership and Communication Skills

playing drums

Most people have a strong preference for what they’d like to hear as they go about each day. A 2019 survey indicated that nearly half of employees listen to music at work. And around 40% of us feel that it benefits our productivity.

Listening to certain types of music can give you a heightened focus on tasks. Others might want to tune in to something more upbeat as their energy level drops later in the day. And we can all appreciate the stress-reducing benefits of our favorite playlists as we go about our busy lives.

But music can do even more to help you at work. Engaging with music on a deeper level can turn you into a more effective teammate and leader.

Learning to speak better

In the modern networked world, nobody operates in a vacuum. Even the stereotypical isolated creative, like an artist or writer, has to work with a team of directors, editors, marketing consultants, and other collaborators.

Communicating effectively with others is not only a vital skill in today’s world, it’s also taking on increasing importance as one of the few human attributes that machines can’t replace. In order to empathize and smooth out interpersonal relations, you need to be a better communicator. And that starts with the physical tool itself: your voice.

People often fail to maximize their natural voices. Too often, we fall into the bad habits of excessive modulation or nasal breathing which work against our unique timbre. Our voices can sound breathy or strained, and we know it.

If you’ve ever listened to your voice on a recording and felt annoyed at how you sound, unnatural speaking habits are probably the culprit. This detracts from the quality of the message you’re seeking to get across. It reduces your confidence as a speaker.

You might not aim to perform anywhere beyond the after-hours karaoke party, but your speaking voice can improve significantly by training to sing. Vocal lessons are a wonderful method of becoming a better overall communicator. The benefits will carry over to the rest of your career.

Becoming a better listener

As noted earlier, people often aren’t aware of how they sound. Until you start deliberately practicing your speaking skills, the only time you hear your voice might be on your answering machine. And if we’re not paying attention to the way we communicate, how much less effort are we giving towards actively listening to others?

Communication is always a two-way street. Everyone wants to be heard, but few people are willing to listen. And listening itself is a skill. You need to learn to pick up on nonverbal cues as well as unspoken or implicit meanings.

Learning to play any instrument can be of immense value as you try to get better in this aspect. When you tune an instrument or play scales, you’re engaged in a process of calibration. As you improve, playing a piece isn’t just about hitting the right notes, but imparting feeling.

As you become more aware of these things, you start to take better notice of them in everyday conversations. You’ll notice when people are a little more tightly strung than usual, when they are in good spirits, whether they are genuinely interested in a conversation or just being polite. And you’ll be able to adjust in turn.

Practicing your harmony

practicing playing the piano

Getting into music offers these practical benefits, as well as simply being a fun way to boost your creativity. But it doesn’t just have to be a self-centered effort.

You can find ways to make musical practice a part of your team’s routines. At the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, participants in a leadership workshop were asked to sing in a choir as part of the learning experience. Despite the students being unskilled singers, the goal was to get everyone listening to each other while doing something new and unfamiliar.

This sort of situation comes up all too often in any business or organization. We work in teams comprised of increasingly specialized individuals. Few people operate as members of more than one or two such units. It becomes difficult for any leader to get people on the same page, particularly in a big project where multiple teams are involved.

Practicing music together is a creative way to get everyone listening to one another with respect, and seeking to work together in harmony in order to achieve a common goal. It underscores the point that no single voice or instrument is more important than the whole. Everyone’s contribution is valuable, but only if you all can make it work.

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