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 Steps to Effective Listening
- First of all, listening is an activity; it is not something we do passively. 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.
- Listen with empathy. This requires us to recognize, except 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Here are a few more skills offered to be a good listener:
- 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.
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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