Listening is more important than any amount of technical savvy
What you know about listening to people has more to do with breaking into the highest levels of management than any amount of technical savvy. While working with over 4,000 managers to set workplace oriented, personal development goals, I have found that many of them struggle with one particular issue – they don’t know how to listen effectively. Oh, these managers listen. That is not a problem. But most don’t listen effectively. This article will coach you on how to use a tool you already have in your management toolbox. If you use this tool effectively, you can expect your stock to rise with senior management and your effectiveness to increase with your direct reports.
Your most important tool for listening is your mouth
First, the tool. You’ve heard it before – “God gave you one mouth and two ears for a reason.” However, in spite of this clever observation, the best tool for letting others know you are listening is not your ears – it is your mouth – if you use it right. Your mouth? Yes – if you use it right. Think about it. How do you know if someone has really listened to what you’ve just told them? The best clue is the first thing that comes out of their mouth.
Let’s say you’ve been working on an idea for a long time, and you’ve just shared that idea with your boss, and he replies, “That’s fine. However, right now, I need you to work on XYZ.” You might wonder if your boss really heard you.
Why most managers aren’t good listeners
One of the main reasons managers don’t listen effectively is they are so busy. Frantic schedules and tight deadlines are simply the reality for most managers. But listening effectively doesn’t need to take lots of extra “warm fuzzy” time. You can push for productivity and listen effectively at the same time. For instance, here is a way that same boss could have handled the same conversation and validated that employee; “That’s great! It sounds like you have put a lot of thought into this idea. How long have you been working on this?” By responding with an (on the topic) follow up question, the manager validates the employee and the employee knows they have been heard. The manager can then get right back on task; “You know, I want to explore your idea further, but right now we’ve got a tight deadline and I need you to do XYZ. Bring this up with me again when we have some more time, OK?” Asking a follow up question assures the person you have been listening. Try it in your next conversation and watch the results. It works!
Another tip for letting your mouth do the listening is reflective listening. This form of listening summarizes what a person has just shared and asks for a response. This works great in meetings, especially meetings where everyone seems to be saying the same thing over and over again (ever been to that meeting?)
My wife used reflective listening at a volunteer child care meeting recently. She was asked to come in and give input on how to manage the program. As new ideas were shared on how to improve the program the outgoing director would tell the volunteers why their ideas wouldn’t work – she had tried them all. The meeting went nowhere fast. My wife began to listen to the director’s frustration and mirror her emotions back to her in the form of questions. She used questions like these: “It sounds like you’re disappointed that more parents didn’t volunteer. Is that how you feel?” “If I’m hearing you right, you don’t think a new check-in system would work because you tried something similar three years ago. Is that right?” It worked! The outgoing director calmed down and the meeting became productive.
When people repeat themselves it is often because they haven’t felt heard
Many times when people say the same thing again and again, or communicate with aggression or frustration, it is because they haven’t felt heard. Reflective listening ensures a person’s point is recognized, enabling the group to move forward. Reflective listening will keep your emp-ployees communicating and your meetings on target.
Managers who have mastered the art of communication are rare. You will be noticed and your career will move forward much quicker by letting your mouth do the listening.
|Do make eye contact||Don’t interrupt|
|Do lean forward and show interest||Don’t finish other’s sentences for them|
|Do mirror the other person’s body language||Don’t multi-task when listening|
By J.T. Taylor, M.A.