Nothing is more important for managers than the ability to effectively listen to employees. Listening means far more than hearing and even understanding. For one thing, it's crucial that people feel heard and understood and that their opinions matter. Listening is a skill that can be nurtured and developed. Let's look at some of the most important listening skills for managers along with some tips on how to improve in these areas.
Learn to be an Active Listener
Active listening is a popular concept but not everyone is clear about what it involves. There are several types of listening, not all of them equally effective at enhancing communication. Active listening is the mode of listening that lets you get the most benefits out of interactions. Active listening is a complex topic about which whole books have been written. The following are some of the key points to help you become a more active listener.
Give Speakers Your Full Attention
This is fairly straightforward but not always an easy task, especially in today's device-saturated culture. When you're talking to someone, especially about a serious matter, don't multitask. Keep your phone on vibrate or set it on Do Not disturb. Put other work aside. Of course, external distractions are only one challenge when it comes to listening. You also have to make a conscious effort to focus on what the person is saying. Put other thoughts, including what you plan to say in response, aside.
Give the speaker a chance to make his or her main points. If you aren't clear about anything, ask for clarification. Asking questions shows that you're really paying attention. It also helps you to make sure you understand the issue fully. One question that's often helpful is "What's your ideal outcome for this situation?" You may not be able to always accommodate the person's wishes but it helps to know exactly what he or she wants.
Summarize and Empathize
One of the key active listening techniques is to give back a summary of the speaker's ideas or feelings. You also want to show empathy for his or her point of view. Do this in a way that shows you're open to correction. For example, if an employee is expressing frustration at an unusually large workload you might say, "If I understand you correctly, John, you feel that you have an unreasonable amount of work right now? I can understand that."
Work Towards a Solution
People appreciate knowing that they've been truly heard. However, for many issues, they also want to know what you're going to do about it. This can be tricky, as it's not always within your power to solve a complex problem with a simple action. However, you can talk about what you intend to do. This may involve talking to other parties, researching alternatives, or making specific changes. You'll find that genuinely listening to and caring about someone's concerns goes a long way even when you can't instantly fix their problems.
Even the most satisfying conversations are pointless if there's no follow-up. Don't make the common mistake of assuring someone that you'll look into an issue, or take certain steps, and then never get back to them. Even if you're unable to resolve things to their satisfaction, it's better to arrange another meeting, preferably in person, and tell them the situation. Of course, not every conversation requires following up. However, if it's appropriate, make sure you put it into your calendar.
Listening Tips for Meetings
As much as meetings are criticized and lambasted, they are an essential aspect of the business world. Today, there are more kinds of meetings than ever before. In addition to one-on-one and group meetings, there are conference calls, video calls, and other types of virtual meetings. One common denominator for all successful meetings, however, is that participants are able to express themselves and be heard. The active listening skills mentioned above are all relevant for meetings of all sizes and types, whether live or virtual. However, there are also some special considerations that come into play with meetings.
Have Focused, Smaller Meetings
The more people in a meeting, the harder it is for anyone to be heard. It's also harder to focus as you have many people raising different issues. Smaller meetings are more manageable. A related tip is to have meetings on specific topics so the conversation isn't too broad and unfocused. Create and distribute your agenda at least 24 hours (preferably 2 or 3 days) ahead of the meeting so everyone knows what will be discussed. When you email people ahead you can also ask for suggestions on what to cover.
Include Time for Q & A
Always leave sufficient time for people to ask questions and make comments during the meeting. Always leave time at the end of the meeting for Q & A. Don't make this simply a formality that you pass over quickly as in, "If no one has any questions, we'll wrap up this meeting." Instead, make it clear that you welcome the chance to clarify anything that's been covered or related issues.
Arrange Face-to-Face Meetings
Group meetings, no matter how well organized, are of limited use for sensitive and personal issues. Not everyone is comfortable speaking up in a group. That's why it's a good policy to arrange one-on-one meetings with employees on a regular basis. You can also arrange these based on feedback from a group meeting. If someone raises a complicated issue at a meeting, tell him or her that you'll discuss it privately. Be sure to actually follow up in such cases.
Use Listening to Strengthen Your Business
Managers often look at listening as something they do for their employees' benefit. This isn't the right way to look at it. Active listening enhances creativity and problem-solving for the entire organization. Here are some additional tips to upgrade your listening skills.
- Be flexible and open-minded. When you're willing to consider new and alternative solutions, your employees are a valuable resource for innovative ideas.
- Listen to the introverts in your organization. Managers sometimes develop an unconscious bias in favor of extroverts simply because they speak more frequently and forcefully. Introverts often have great ideas but you may have to give them a little extra encouragement to express themselves.
- Make your company culture one that welcomes questions and even challenges. If people are afraid to question the status quo, they won't share their most creative ideas with you.
Listening is a key element in the way any organization functions. It can be the difference between a company culture that's harmonious and one that's fraught with discord. By paying attention to your own listening habits and consciously working to enhance them, you can become a better listener and improve communication throughout your business.
Nexalearning provides leadership training to transform managers into leaders. To find out more about our services, contact us.
Research shows that people screen out or change the intended purpose of what they hear in over 70% of all communications. The biggest factor contributing to such miscommunications is our listening approach. We offer a Listening Skills class as a live virtual program. Check out our Live Virtual Course Offerings to find out more.