Listening is one of the most important, yet most underrated, management skills. It may seem like a simple, even passive, task, but being an effective listener actually requires concentration, effort and time. Keep these five easy steps in mind in your everyday office interactions and dramatically improve your listening skills.
1. Keep eye contact.
When someone is talking to you, stop what you are doing and face him. It’s easy to become distracted by emails, cell phones or stacks of papers on your desk, so take a break from multitasking to look the speaker in the eye.
2. Acknowledge what you are hearing.
It is important for the speaker to see that you are actively listening. Acknowledge what she is saying by nodding your head encouragingly, saying “Uh huh” or adding an occasional short comment when appropriate. Keep your body language open and inviting, and be aware of your facial expressions (eye rolling, frowning or eyebrow raising can be roadblocks in communication).
3. Don’t interrupt.
This rule can be a challenging one for most people, but when mastered, it will improve your listening skills by leaps and bounds. It takes restraint and effort to listen without mentally formulating your responses or rebuttals or interrupting the speaker with your own thoughts. Be respectful, and wait until the speaker pauses to comment or ask clarifying questions. If you allow the speaker to finish his thoughts, you will often find your questions have been answered already.
4. Give feedback and clarify what you are hearing.
Keep an open mind as you listen, and try to set aside any personal biases or assumptions. To avoid miscommunications, occasionally paraphrase what the speaker has said (“What I’m hearing is…”) and ask if you are understanding correctly. Make sure your questions stay on topic and don’t distract the speaker from the topic at hand.
5. Respond calmly.
When the speaker has finished what she has to say, take time to think about what you have heard. Remain respectful, calm and understanding when you respond, keeping in mind how this person would like to be treated. Express your opinions honestly, and work with the other person to find solutions, if necessary.
Start using these tips to improve your listening skills, and learn more about management development through the Communicating to Manage Performance course.