Listening could be the most under-rated management skill … ever!
Managers who listen well have a more positive impact on employees, avoiding discontent and turnover. Solid listeners give better instruction and direction, effectively leading teams to success.
And they always seem to say the right thing at the right time (because they heard and understood concerns).
Yet, nearly 80% of business programs call presentation skills a goal and just 11% consider listening one.
“Getting good at active listening is a lifetime endeavor,” say Robin Abrahams and Boris Groysberg in their Harvard Business School research.
“However, even minor improvements can make a difference in your listening effectiveness.”
To do that, here are the researchers’ top tips and strategies to become a better listener in work (and life).
Repeat the last few words
This is the most important of all the tips: Repeat the other person’s last few words back to him or her. It serves three purposes:
- makes the other person feel listened to
- keeps everyone on track, and
- provides a pause for both of you to gather thoughts or recover from any kind of emotional reaction.
Don’t put it in your words
You might have heard before that it’s a good idea to rephrase what others say. It actually causes more confusion.
One caveat: If you need to check that you understand what they said, explicitly say, “I’m going to put this in my words to make sure I understand.”
Give the nonverbals (or don’t)
Make eye contact, stand attentively, nod and give other nonverbal cues – only if that comes natural to you!
If you have to think about sending those signals, you won’t listen as attentively as you should.
Pay attention to nonverbals
Whether you dish out nonverbals or not, it’s important that you pay attention to speakers. Check that their tone, facial expressions and body language are in line with their words.
It should go without saying, but it’s always worth the reminder: Eliminate distractions when you talk with others. Put aside devices and turn off alerts.
Also, minimize internal distractions. If you’re preoccupied with another issue, re-focus before you chat. If it’ll be an emotional conversation, work to get as calm as possible beforehand.
Ask more questions
There can never be too many questions in an important conversation. Ask more than you think you need to. Questions:
- ensure you fully understand
- act as a prompt to be sure important details aren’t overlooked, and
- remind the other person he or she is being heard.
Skip the rehearsal
Don’t rehearse your responses while the other person is talking. Instead, pause briefly after he or she is done talking to compose your thoughts.
This will take practice and a conscious effort.
Stay ahead of emotions
If you or the speaker have emotional reactions, slow the pace.
High emotions will take almost anyone right back to poor listening habits such as tuning out, disengagement and preparing responses.