Listening to people properly is essential. As a manager how many times have you said that your door is always open? How do you react if someone takes you up on your offer? It’s extremely important for managers to be able to listen effectively yet many struggle to do so.
So, what are the barriers to being a good listener and how do you go about overcoming them?
- Prioritise – Acknowledge the fact that listening to people is an important part of your job, and a skill to be developed. Whether you’re listening to someone who has a problem or giving time to an employee who has a suggestion you should recognise that they are likely to have something of value to say.
- Know your limits – If you have an issue with developing this skill try and identify what it is that’s holding you back. It might be that you’re naturally a good listener or that as an assertive personality you’re more used to doing most of the talking. Identifying from which side you come from will help you to focus when you need to listen up.
- Eliminate distractions – If your attention is obviously elsewhere during a conversation, the other person will soon get the message. You want someone to feel that what they have to say is important so clearing you work station, closing down your computer and muting the phone to guarantee attention will show that you are committed and interested in the person in front of you and help to ensure that you don’t waste time by getting the full picture first time around.
- Not all communication comes through words – Eliminating distractions means that you can focus on the parts of the conversation imparted through other channels. You can’t underestimate what someone’s eyes or body language will tell you throughout interaction and how much this will tell you about an individual’s feeling towards the subject matter.
- Control your reactions – Body language communication works both ways so try to make sure that your reactions are measured, avoiding any temptation to react or contradict too hastily.
- Validate and verify – Asking questions that verify the information you’ve received can serve to prove that you have indeed been listening to the conversation. You can acknowledge and even express gratitude for the information, regardless of how you feel about it. Always close the talk with a summary of points heard and next steps.
To summarise the dos and don’ts –
- Take an honest look at both your good and bad habits
- Clear out all distractions that might draw your attention away from the person in front of you
- Ask clarifying questions and repeat back what you heard
- Assume you know all of the answers — allow for the possibility that others have valuable information to share
- Overlook nonverbal cues — they often reveal what a person is really thinking
- React emotionally to what is being said — acknowledge the information even if you don’t agree
The ability to listen effectively is an art within itself and something that should be honed and developed. Not listening properly in the first instance can also lead to time being wasted especially if it means that you have to go over the subject matter again at a later date. Additionally, the impact it can have on an employee if it’s obvious that you’re not taking your time with them seriously, can be severely damaging. Identifying listening as a specific and important management skill will greatly improve your abilities and standing as a manager.