"Most people know the techniques of good listening: Don't interrupt, be able to paraphrase, listen for underlying meaning, be accepting of other people's views. The problem is we all listen well only when we want to or have to. What most need to learn is how to listen when you don't want to. Remember, listening doesn't mean you accept what they have said or even that you have accepted them. It just means listening." (p. 206)
Becoming a good listener in the workplace is essential to becoming a more effective leader. If you are in charge, it is tempting to think that your staff are there to hang on your every golden word. If being an articulate communicator has been part of your success in the past, it can be difficult to realize that you may inadvertently be taking up too much air time and not leaving enough room for others. If your strength is in being a quiet leader, staff may interpret your silence as judging them, dismissing their contribution or lack of interest. Without good listening skills, you may consciously or unconsciously shut people down and miss important ideas, information and signals about your environment. You may also lose opportunities to build trust and confidence between you and your team and with your peers. Leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith calls not listening "the most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues".
9 Tips To Become A Better Listener
1. Be a learner not a judger.
Stay open and curious when talking with others. Listen just as hard to people you don't like. Look for opportunities to learn more about people and their points of view. Separate the content from the person. You don't need to agree with them. You just need to hear and appreciate what they have to say.
2. Ask thoughtful questions and listen to the answers.
No one likes the third degree, but people generally appreciate someone who appears really interested in them. At work, ask clarifying, probing and confirming questions to gain more information and understanding of others' ideas. Listen to their answers without arguing or giving advice.
3. Stop beginning sentences with "no", "but" and "however".
Marshall Goldsmith says people "inflict these words on others to gain or consolidate power...people resent it, consciously or not...it stifles rather than opens up discussion".
4. Be patient when people are speaking.
Don't interrupt people or suggest words when they hesitate. If you are a leader, be particularly careful not to provide answers, solutions, conclusions, or dictates too early in a meeting. It stops discussion.
5. Take the initiative and engage with people.
Walk the floor regularly. Get out to where your employees are. Show genuine interest in their lives and ask them for ideas on how things can work better. Care about them and it will show.
6. Watch your non-verbals and theirs.
We often signal our lack of interest or impatience with our body. Do you roll your eyes, sigh, smirk, drum your fingers? Ask someone to help you notice your non-verbal signals. By contrast, watch others for their body language. It can tell you when you are talking too much or too little and you have lost them or when your message or tone needs to be less emotionally charged and more neutral. Become more of an observer of yourself and others.
7. Learn to give and receive feedback (see previous blog posts).
Feedback can be a powerful tool for understanding blind spots and making changes in behaviour that improve your work performance and that of others. Learning the most effective techniques for giving feedback can increase your chances of the feedback being heard and acted upon. Staying calm and really hearing feedback when it is given to you can point you in the right direction for your professional development.
8. Be careful of humour.
Humour can be misinterpreted and requires a deft touch. If you must use humour, avoid sarcasm and turn any joke against yourself not others.
9. Manage the conversation flow if you need to.
Sometimes others have difficulty organizing their communications. If they want to chat, ask questions. If people want to unload a problem, summarize what they have said and don't offer advice. If they are chronic complainers at work, Lombardo and Eichinger suggest asking them to "write down their problems and solutions and then let's discuss it". (p. 208) Finally, if they ramble too much, politely interrupt to summarize and focus the discussion. This is the only time you can interrupt.