Active Listening Skills:

 

To be successful, all great leaders need to develop their listening skills!  You know what??  Everyone needs to develop his or her listening skills!  It’s just plain courteous!  Effective listening skills should be required learning for anyone wanting to succeed in business. It is relevant to all professions and all situations where someone wants to be successful and connect with people in an authentic and comfortable way.  Listening skills are extremely important for all relationships whether in business, in the schools, at home or just even at a gathering of friends.  For now, however, our focus will be on the manager’s command of listening skills.

 

Listening more, talking less, that should be a key phrase for every manager, parent, spouse and friend. In business, become the manager that employees can open up to, respect and admire.  Communications experts all agree; being a good listener is one of the critical skills a manager needs to be successful in business. Listening aids the business leader in developing rapport. Listening builds trust and conveys openness to hearing all the concerns and new ideas. Whether sitting down with a business client, meeting with an associate or receiving input from an employee, managers must listen not only to what is being said, but how it is said or not said.  Think about the power of your knowledge of NLP at work while you listen.   Use these tools to understand the person being listened to.  Tone of voice, demeanor, or absence of a response, awareness of sub-modalities can often give as much information as words and gestures can.  A good ear and eye goes a long way.  Those who listen effectively and intently are perceived to be great communicators, even without saying a word. Good listeners are viewed to be caring and wise as well. In return, because they listen well, when they do speak, people give what they say much more attention.

 

A good rule of thumb: listening first, then tailor your message to what you have heard.  As you listen, you can learn about a person, you can understand his values, experiences, feelings, attitudes and modalities.  This information will enable you to devise messages that are going to be more appealing.

 

Good listening is directed by two elements: What is being said & How it is being said.

            Focus on content:

         What is being said?

         What is their view of the topic being discussed?

         What arguments are being used?

         What do they looking to accomplish or what goals need to be achieved?

         What emotions are expressed, where do they occur and where are they emphasized? Is it anger, fear, and delight?  Pay special attention to what is being said the moment that emotion is detected.

         What is behind these feelings?  There is nothing wrong with analyzing the situation.

Observe how they are communicating:

         How is it being said? Be aware of body language; Foot-flapping (anxiety or discomfort reaction), nose touching (not being completely honest or having anxiety about being exposed), leaning away (desire for distance), crouched or slumped posture (may mean defensiveness), crossed arms (defensiveness).

         How are they using their facial expressions?  Carefully observe all facial expressions. What is the speaker talking about when he smiles or frowns? 

         How intense and direct is eye contact? Most importantly be aware of eyes, eye contact, eye movement and even possible expressions of emotions.  The eyes are the windows to the soul and can give away big secrets.

 

Techniques for Effective Listening: 

Take a lot of notes. Note taking makes a person feel important.  It also will give your an opportunity to review the conversation later. Telling a person 'to expand on that' makes communication stronger and encourages clarification. A manager who sits back and just listens makes the speaker the single most important person at the time. You're focusing on the individual. Taking notes as you listen and underlining words is also useful when you want to incorporate these words or ideas into your responses.  Note pads and pens at all meetings and on your office desk are handy tools to being properly armed to actively listen.

 

Hold weekly meetings with all staff members with no formal agenda, just to listen to what comes up and take the pulse of what is happening with each team member. Listen at meetings to everyone’s agenda.  At  “Brainstorming” sessions stress listening to everyone's contributions before formulating any reply. Good listening skills practiced at meetings and in your office helps create an environment where people feel secure, loved and valued so that they could be truly brilliant and not constantly looking over their shoulders or covering their backs because the work environment gets to feel like a political snake-pit. The best listening can only take place when there is an open environment and mutual trust.

 

Let go of Ego issues.  The best listeners are those who really care about another’s opinion and do not assume that they have all the answers themselves.  Everyday politeness says we let people finish their thoughts, all too often we assume that we know what they are going to say and interrupt.  We just interrupt because we want to hear what we're going to say - the ultimate ego trip! 

 

Rephrase what is being said.  When a person is through talking, give him the opportunity to say more and then rephrase what he's said to make sure it was understood. This form of listening provides the speaker with feedback and the opportunity to clarify his point.  This focused listening is crucial when working with clients and job candidates. To place the right candidates in the right jobs, listens closely to needs, requirements, desires and goals. For clients, focus on their expectations.  Use phrases such as:

o        "So what you're thinking is this..."?

o        "Do I understand that…”?

o        “So what you are saying is…”?

o        “ I wonder if you could give examples for clarification.”

 

Ask the right questions.   You can't do that if we haven't really heard the candidate or the client. To show you're really listening, you have to ask questions that generate more dialogue.  Asking the appropriate questions is truly the best way for practice active listening.  But be careful not to over do with the questions. 

 

Empathize. Hear the person, pause and repeat back verbatim what the other person has said. As in rephrasing, capture the essence of what is being said by summarizing.  Capture the feeling and meaning of what someone has said.  Express your true concern.  If you have no concern by all means just listen and don’t try empathy. When risking false emotions you will come across as a fool.

 

Avoid the danger of listening too late.  How often we hear that management doesn’t know that a problem exists until the exit interview.  That one bites.  All too often issues come up with the human resource department about happenings that frustrated and employee to the point of resigning.  Avoid this situation by keeping the pulse on your staff by listening.  You will be able to led the team more effectively if you know what's going on inside with their internal realities. 

 

Listen to the noise (the words) and the silences (what is not said or often what is screamed in behavior and body language).  Teachers and parents often learn the hard way about those issues!  Don’t assume that because someone is an adult that they have resolved all their adolescent issues.  And don’t just assume that a pause means someone is finished.  A good technique is to take a breath and to not just jump in when someone pauses or appears to be finished,   

 

Stay Focused.  Here’s the hard one… this is where I usually bite my inner lip or even clench a hand or pen.  I find myself always wanting to butt in with my too cents.  Or I just am getting bored. Do not let your attention wander and (unless you are taking notes) certainly do not do anything else. There is nothing worse that having a discussion with someone that is distracted and shuffling papers or playing with something on the desk. 

 

Positioning and posture has a lot to do with active listening.  Someone who's sitting there with his hands clasped in front and looking directly at you and digesting what you are saying, is essentially saying, 'Let me think about that for a moment, I hear what you have said and then I'll respond. There is great emotional pleasure in this for the one who's doing the talking. This  receptive approach is also an effective active listening device.

 

      Signs of a Poor Listener…

 

Besides being someone with no friends or a boss that no one likes there are other signs of a poor listener.  Some obvious signs that someone is not listening are: 

         Constantly interrupting

         Looking around the room or off into the distance

         Fidgeting or distracting hand movements – picking at nails etc.

         Talking on and on without pause

         Not seeking information or ideas through proper questioning

         Multi-tasking (as when on the phone and you can hear some people actually typing away!)

         When people start cutting you off,

         Answers with a response that is slightly off

         Lack of eye contact (most obvious sign)

         When something goes "In one ear out the other” and they return 10 minutes or two days later asking for information about the conversation.