One of the key skills a manager can learn is the ability to improve his or her listening. As they say, no-one ever got sacked for listening too much!
First of all, what is the difference between hearing and listening? Well, hearing is done at the subconscious level. The traffic outside your office window; the birds singing when you take a walk in the park; your partner’s question when you are watching your favourite TV programme! All these are examples of things you hear but don’t always compute at the conscious level. Your brain does actually hear them but deletes it from your consciousness, because it might not be important to you.
Listening, on the other hand, requires conscious awareness, attention and concentration. It is to the exclusion of most other things around you. So, how can you improve this vital management skill to achieve success in your communications with others? Here are some tips, and I’ve used the word LISTEN as an acronym, so you can remember it easier (I’m good like that!):
– Let the other person speak: Obvious, I know, but how many times have you been talking to someone and it’s clear that they would rather be speaking than listening. Allow the other person time to gather their thoughts and articulate what is on their mind
– Intently focus on them: It takes effort to really listen, and that’s why a lot of people don’t do it. Many people are ‘shallow’ listeners, not really paying attention to what is being said, and they are making judgements and opinions on the ideas rather than really focusing and concentrating on the meaning behind the words
– Stop yourself interrupting: Oh, this is a hard one for many people. If you interrupt, you certainly aren’t displaying the first two tips. A classy conversationalist will allow one or two seconds at the end of the speaker’s words to ensure they have really finished, and to allow themselves time to think through a reply. Resist the urge to interrupt, even if you have a valid excuse, like you might forget what you were going to say if you don’t say it now! I’m sorry, but it’s rude, inconsiderate and shows you’re a poor listener
– Take stock of their opinions, ideas, facts, etc.: This is important, as they have just given you a glimpse of their model of the world. You may not agree with it, you may consider it to be wrong or you may have vastly different ideas yourself. However, it is their world, and they are sharing it with you. See if you can rationally identify what their opinions, ideas or thoughts are really telling you. Do they know all the facts? Have they got opinions that are based on lack of knowledge? Think through why they would be having this viewpoint
– Evaluate where you are now: Having listened effectively, you can consider the position you are now in. Are you more knowledgeable than before? Has their viewpoint cleared something up for you? Do you see things differently now? Take a moment to consider what has changed as a result of really listening to this person.
– No judgement: Probably the hardest of the six listed here. As humans, it seems we are conditioned to judge situations from our own vantage point, and we get a sense of security from seeing that our views are supported and proved correct. It builds our self-esteem when we are proved right to and by others. So when someone has a viewpoint different to us, we tend to judge whether they are right or wrong, black or white. If we can resist this natural inclination, it will help us to listen more intently as we listen for information rather than through our biased opinions and ideas. Remember; your ideas are biased, because they are yours…and you are the only person in the world who sees things your way. Keep in mind that the person is sharing ideas from where they are. In their eyes they are correct. Not judging them will prove you are an excellent listener rather than a judgmental one.
These are only six ideas, but I hope they prove useful in your quest to improve your listening skills and abilities.
Head of Training and Development