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. While going through some information this weekend, I came across a tremendous 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, so I am sharing the main points with you. The strategies of effective listening skills are essential for every great leader and improve your listening comprehension.
4 Strategies for Effective Listening
First, listening is an activity;
it is not something we do passively. The skill of active listening must be applied, be there and stay focused on the person talking without any distractions. It would be best if you practiced active listening daily to get better at it. It requires us to ask questions and give feedback. So here are four primary goals of listening strategies to consider when entering a conversation:
- To understand someone
- To enjoy someone
- To learn something
- To give help or solace
Paraphrasing is an essential 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…?
- Are you saying that...?
- What I understand from your point is...
- In essence, you're stating that...?
- So, in your opinion, the situation is...?
Paraphrasing defines common ground, lets the other person know you understand what they are communicating, and helps them feel understood and appreciated. Listening is a leadership skill that should be noticed more.
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, which will help you hear his or her news. Please 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 to avoid coming to conclusions too quickly and develop a definitive position based on what you hear. Allow yourself to consider different perspectives. Whenever possible, have the meeting face to face or via video conferencing, if in person isn't possible, so that you can better understand their thoughts and feelings being expressed non-verbally.
Listen with awareness.
There are two parts to this; compare what is said to your knowledge, history, people, and how the world operates; and secondly, listen and observe for congruence. Please watch for visual cues and try to figure out if they match the information you were hearing. I want you to know that effective communication is a two-way street, so please make sure that you tell them that they were heard and understood before moving to a new topic.
Effective Listening Strategies and 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 Leadership Accountability to ensure people do what they say they will do.
- Pay attention to facial expressions and other nonverbal communication
- Ensure that you are fully paying attention, not just hearing the words but understanding them and their context.
- Let them know you are actively listening by saying words like uh uh, okay, tell me more, let's dive into that, etc.
- Put your focus on the speaker, and make sure that you give them 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 better understand the situation.
- Make sure to ask for additional information if you need it, or find an especially interesting 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 your following conversation and ask yourself if you are using any of them. It might help you better understand and be better understood.
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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.
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images