One of the things I have to do as a business consultant is to be a great listener. This is a key leadership and communication skill for anyone. Sometimes effective listening can be a challenge because, like most people, I can fall into the trap of thinking about my response and how I would like to help the individual with whom I am communicating. One of my pet peeves has always been that many people begin developing their response as soon as the other person starts speaking rather than truly listening to the message spoken to them. As I was going through some information this weekend, I came across a great one-page paper on four steps to effective listening, a key tenet of developing accountable leaders and teams. Permission was given to use the information as freely as possible and so I am sharing the main points with you.
4 Strategies for Effective Listening
- First of all, listening is an activity; it is not something we do passively. The skill of active listening needs to be applied, be there and stay focused on the person talking, without any distractions. It requires us to ask questions and give feedback. So here are four basic goals of good listening to consider when entering a conversation:
- To understand someone
- To enjoy someone
- To learn something
- To give help or solace
Paraphrasing is a basic tool we often use to listen well. We might use phrases like these:
- In other words, did you mean…?
- So how you felt about it was…?
- Did you mean…?
- I think what I am hearing you say is…?
- Correct me if I am wrong…?
Paraphrasing defines common ground, lets the other person know you understand what it is they are communicating, and it helps them feel understood and appreciated. Listening is a leadership skill that is often overlooked.
- Listen with empathy. This requires us to recognize, accept and understand that we are doing the best we can and so are others. Try to put yourself in the other individual’s shoes and give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Try to understand where someone else is coming from and treat him or her with kindness as you take in the message. Ask what difficulties the other person is experiencing and this will help you hear his or her message. Pay attention to their body language, keep an open mind and be careful not to jump to conclusions.
- Be open as you listen. Be careful not to judge and put on your critical parent hat. Do not make your mind up too quickly as you take in the information. Give yourself some time to think and reflect. Try not to come to conclusions too quickly and develop a definitive position based on what you are hearing. Allow yourself to consider different perspectives. Whenever possible have the meeting face to face, or with video conferencing if in person isn't possible, so that you can better understand their thoughts and feelings being expressed nonverbally.
- Listen with awareness. There are two parts to this; compare what is said to your own knowledge, history, people and the way the world operates; and secondly listen and observe for congruence. Watch for visual cues and try to determine if they match the information you were hearing. Effective communication is a two way street so make sure that you let them know that they were heard and understood before moving to a new topic.
Here are a Few More Effective Listening Skills:
- Maintain good eye contact - while not staring.
- Lean in slightly while not encroaching on someone’s personal space.
- Reinforce by paraphrasing and giving feedback at the right time.
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Try to eliminate distractions and be in the moment.
- Be committed to understanding the other person.
- Don't forget about the 5 C's of Team Accountability to ensure people do what they say they're going to do.
- Pay attention to the facial expressions and other nonverbal communication
- Make sure that you are fulling paying attention, not just hearing the words, but understanding them and their context.
- Let them know you are actively listening with saying words like uh uh, okay, tell me more, let's dive into that, etc.
- Put your focus on the speaker, make sure that you give them with your full attention. Don't get distracted by your phone or any other attention stealing objects!
- Use your effective listening skills to build a human relationship with your colleagues and get a deeper understanding of the situation.
- Make sure that you ask for additional information if you need it, or find an especially interested topic in your conversation to help show your engagement.
- Don't try to think about what you are going to say while the other person is talking, stay fully engaged in what they are saying. You'll have plenty of time to offer input later.
Please consider these tips as you enter into your next conversation and ask yourself if you are using any of them. It might help you better understand and be better understood.
Good luck and listen well, Alan
Want more information on Team Accountability? Check out these additional resources:
The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams
Learn more about accountable leaders and teams.
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