I don’t know if I believe it’s quite that low for most of us, but I do believe many of us have lost the art of listening. We’re too distracted to offer our full attention to one person. We multi-task, constantly deal with the ding of our phones, allow our worries to enter our minds at the least opportune times, or tune out altogether when the conversation is less than stimulating.
As a leader, listening is hands down the most important skill for you develop. Listening is the foundation of effective communication, avoiding and resolving conflict, offering employees feedback, and so much more. EVERYONE can improve their listening skills. Here’s how you can do it:
Listen to understand, not to respond
Effective listening goes beyond hearing someone’s words. Effective listening creates an environment where other people feel that you understand them.
This tip applies to attitude more than it does to behavior. Many people view dialogue like a tennis match where the two parties square off and hit the ball back-and-forth. In this approach to conversation, both parties are adversaries trying to “score the point.”
To listen effectively, I suggest that you view dialogue more like a pitcher and catcher in a baseball game. The pitcher (speaker) throws the ball for the catcher (you) to receive it. The catcher only throws the ball back after he has it firmly in his grasp.
In other words, listen to receive the meaning. Once you understand, then you can respond.
Being quiet gives you the opportunity to hear the words, the tone, and the meaning behind the words. It gives you the chance to observe the speaker’s body language.
To help you remember this tip, I’ll share two quick statements with you:
- “When your mouth is open, your ears are closed.”
- “LISTEN and SILENT have the same letters.”
Let them finish their thoughts
In other words, don’t interrupt the speaker. From the previous tip, this idea seems obvious. However, I have seen many arguments and misunderstandings that stemmed from interruptions. It’s hard to remain silent. It’s even harder to remain silent until someone has completely expressed an idea.
Maintain eye contact
Effective listening means observing everything about the speaker’s message. People communicate at least as much with their body language as they do with their words. Good listeners learn to “listen” with their eyes as well as with their ears.
If you choose to work on something else (answer email, fill out paperwork, etc.) while someone is speaking to you, they will not “feel” that they were heard.
Ask questions to ensure that you understand
Just because you heard the words and observed the body language, don’t assume that you understand. If a particular point is unclear to you, ask a question to clarify it before you respond.
Even if you think you understand the message, make sure you do by clarifying it with the speaker. You might say something like:
- “Just to be sure I understand you, let me repeat back to you what I thought you said …”
- “I heard you say … Is that correct?”
- “If I understand correctly, your concern is …”
When you clarify, remember to let people correct your understanding. You don’t have to agree with their perspective. You do have to make sure that you understand it.
Good leaders are good listeners. Effective listening helps to resolve conflicts, build trust, inspire people, and strengthen teams. It often requires you to “bite your tongue,” and, from my personal experience, I know that it can be hard work. I also know that the results are worth the effort.