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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: Continue reading

Three indisputable benefits of listening

curious businessman listens with glass leaning against the wallOver the years, I’ve penned many blog posts about the importance of effective listening, including the very interesting use of the word “listen” in traditional Mandarin Chinese. Today though, I thought it was worthwhile bringing up how not listening effectively actually causes people to sabotage their credibility and effectiveness. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize the benefits of listening, and thus, the serious consequences of not. Right off the top of my head, here are three specific benefits of listening that I can think of. Continue reading

Active listening can be accomplished by taking notes

writingEarlier this week I offered up a technique to become a more active listener – paraphrasing.  And I promised I’d share one more idea today.  So here it is – take notes.  Yes, that’s right, taking notes will lead to more active listening.  I know that may sound counterintuitive – after all, taking notes would draw your attention away from listening, wouldn’t it?  Not so.  As long as you’re not transcribing, word-for-word, your conversation, you should be fine.  The point of taking notes is to jot down key words and phrases to jog your memory later, not to record the conversation in detail.  And once again, as it was for paraphrasing, taking notes itself doesn’t make you a better listener; it’s because your brain is engaged (because you’re taking notes) that you have a reason to stay present and checked-inContinue reading

Paraphrasing leads to active listening

Listening To GossipThe skill of active listening is of great advantage in the workplace.  Sure, when you listen well it gives you access to information, data that you can use to make better decisions, but the benefits go beyond just this obvious advantage.  Active listening is also a huge motivator – when you listen to what your employees have to say, it affirms them and thus builds and nurtures great working relationships.  Which is why I often blog about what specific techniques leaders can use to become more active listeners.  Last May I wrote about asking questions as a way to improve listening.  Today and later this week, I have two more ideas.  Today’s technique – paraphrase.

Paraphrasing is when you repeat back, in your own words, what you heard the other person say.  So for example: Continue reading

Use this phrase for more effective communication

Two irrefutable truths about effective communication:

  1. Effective communication involves both speaking and listening, preferably equably between two parties.
  2. When it’s your turn to speak, it’s also your responsibility to ensure that the message is heard and received by the other person.

Red Flashing LightLet’s look at #2 more closely.  Despite the fact that it happens often, ensuring that the message is heard and received by someone else does NOT involve speaking louder and faster!  Instead, it’s about setting the stage so that your listener is willing to hear what you have to say, and to be open-minded enough to consider your point of view.  In previous blog posts, I’ve written about not making people defensive and focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want, both approaches to increase the likelihood that the other person will hear and act on what you have to say.

Another tactic to improve another person’s listening ability is to prepare him/her – give him/her notice about what’s coming up – by using the phrase “Let me tell you why that is important.”  This is akin to putting a flashing light in the middle of a conversation.  Perhaps the person you are speaking to has drifted away and isn’t listening carefully.  By using this phrase, you are letting him/her know that they need to check back in and pay attention. Continue reading

Active listening can be accomplished by asking questions

Listening To GossipActive listening is a learned skill, one that gets better with use and practice.  And being a good active listener comes with rewards – not only does it give you more information on which to base your decisions and actions, but perhaps more importantly, it helps you get the best from your employees.  When you listen, actively listen, to what your employees have to say, not only does it affirm them, but it builds and solidifies your relationships with your staff.  In past blog posts, I’ve written about what gets in the way of active listening (see Good listening: it’s about staying “checked-in” and Be aware of mental and physical barriers that can get in the way) but today I want to talk about the opposite – what can you do to become a more active listener?

One idea – ask questions.  Continue reading

What does good listening really mean?

Earlier this year, I was at several speaking engagements in Shanghai, China, and over lunch, a participant in one of my programs gave me a rudimentary explanation of Mandarin Chinese.  Apparently, many Mandarin characters (or words) are actually combinations of several characters that also have independent meanings.  An example in English would be the word “stopwatch”.  “Stop” is an independent word, as is “watch”, and when combined, they create a third meaning.  Continue reading

Sometimes leaders need to stop talking and just listen

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

— Sir Winston Churchill, British politician (1874 – 1965) at a conference in Washington DC

I received this quote and photo from a client recently and even though I’ve read this before, the accompanying photo was a visible reminder of this important leadership tenet. As a leader, there are times when it is important to speak up and be heard, but there are just as many situations when it is critical to stop talking and just listen. As a leader, your title or position will often cause others to view you as an elephant – big and powerful – and for that reason your subordinates will not always speak up, even when they have something important or significant to say. Which is exactly why it’s so essential that you consciously and deliberately sit back and listen; and create an environment where your employees know that you are willing to hear them out. That will sometimes require you to keep your own ego in check, to swallow hard and hold your own opinions back until others have had chance to share their points of view.

So is it difficult to “sit down and listen”? What do you do to gather up the courage to not speak? Do tell.

Paraphrasing creates better working relationships

People who are empathetic listeners have higher-quality working relationships with their staff, their colleagues, their clients, and even their superiors.  And paraphrasing is  a powerful way to be empathetic.  In the latest issue of CGA Magazine, I explain the four levels of paraphrasing, and give you examples so that you can apply this important skill in your workplace.  Read The Art of Empathetic Listening.

And once you have, c’mon back here and share your experiences (positive or negative) with other leaders so that we can all learn together.  Add your comments below.

Good listening is a learned skill

In the past, I’ve talked about how the the disparity between how fast we can talk and how fast the human brain can process information is a major contributor to poor listening (see Good listening: it’s about staying “checked-in”).  And if that wasn’t bad enough, there are all kinds of mental and physical barriers that get in the way of good listening as well.  So what’s a person to do, you might ask?  With the odds stacked against us, it is really possible to be a good listener?  The unequivocal answer is yes!

But listening, like any other skill, is one that gets better with use and practice.  If you play a sport of any kind, then you know exactly what I mean.  Let’s just say that your sport of choice is golf.  If you think back to the very first time you picked up a club and went out on the course, the chances are good that you didn’t play like a pro.  In fact, you probably weren’t very good at all.  But with practice, you got better!  And that’s exactly how it is with listening.  The more you make an effort at it, the more you focus on improving your skill, the better you will get at it.

Because I know that I am not naturally a good listener (I prefer to speak, after all :)), I call myself a work-in-progress.  All that means is that even though I am not a perfect listener today, I am better at it now than I was a year ago, and a year ago, I was a better listener than I was two years ago.  You get the idea!

So what about you?  Are you a good listener?  What are you doing to get better everyday?