Merge's Blog

Active listening is a critical leadership skill

As regular readers of our blog know, active listening is an essential skill in leadership.  And like most aspects of leadership, it’s a learned skill.  Which is why I’m so pleased that Jackie Edwards is guesting on the blog today with this great piece focusing on the value of active listening.  Jackie is an editor and writer, who previously worked as an HR Manager for a small finance company.  She currently focuses on writing about the world of management and business.

Managers: Are You Really Listening?

When you’re talking to someone, naturally you want to know that they are listening. As in, really listening. This is especially true when it involves your place of work. As a manager, you have a huge part to play in your team’s happiness at work. Being a good listener is key to this. Employees want to know that their manager values their opinions, takes their points on board and responds accordingly. Seeing as we retain half of what we hear (at most), all of us should work on improving our listening skills. To be an effective leader, this is vital.

Be an active listener

The best listeners are active listeners. Active listening means not just hearing what someone says, but focusing on the speaker and showing that you are listening – whether that be through verbal or nonverbal cues, or both. Active listening can be practiced and developed over time by following a few simple steps:

Put your electronics away

One sure fire way to demotivate your team members is by being distracted by email or text when they’re trying to talk to you. You’re also certainly not going to be able to listen to them effectively. So turn off your electronic devices, not your team.

Find a neutral, undisturbed space in which to talk

Having a conversation in a neutral space, away from either of your desks of working areas will help put your employee at ease and speak more freely. It also demonstrates that you take their needs seriously and value their time, as well as their place in your team.

Use nonverbal cues to show you are listening

Nonverbal cues include making proper eye contact, responding to points with facial expressions subtle hand movements. The tone of voice you use, as opposed to the words you choose when answering, is also important.

Be patient

Resist the urge to interject before your team member has finished; this indicates an impatience for them to finish and shows that you probably haven’t taken what they’ve said on board. Instead, wait until you’re sure they’ve said everything they wanted to and repeat the key points back to them, in order to avoid misunderstandings. This also demonstrates clearly that you’ve been listening actively and care about your team member’s point of view. This is turn will boost their morale and view of you as a manager.

Note the speaker’s body language

Listening does not always mean paying attention to words said, but also to body language. Body language reveals a lot more about how someone feels than what they say verbally. Pay special attention to posture, eye contact, facial expressions and behavior.

Over to you…

Listening skills are prioritized by employers when it comes to recruiting and promoting employees. As a manager though, it is up to you to lead by example. Be sure to practice active listening and engage with your team members regularly; you and your team will reap the rewards in no time.

Thanks for this Jackie.  My personal experience is that active listening reaps huge benefits, but it’s often hard to do (particularly for those of us who love to talk!).  What is your experience?  Please share by commenting below.

Now working as a writer, Jackie Edwards started her career in finance and banking, but after becoming a mom, refocused and decided to spend more time with her family. When she’s not writing, she volunteers for a number of local mental health charities and also has a menagerie of pets to look after.

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