Experts in Front Line Leadership

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Are you really listening?

If you are like me, your ability to listen fluctuates from being an excellent and attentive listener to being distracted and disinterested. And most of the time, we aren’t fooling anyone – they can tell if we are really listening. I’ve also noticed in myself, that my listening skills tend to fluctuate depending on my biases towards the person I am talking with. You can imagine the pressure I’m under at home when my wife Robin knows that I teach listening skills!

Tips to Be a Better Listener

  1. Avoid pre-judging the message/messenger – Based on your history with the individual, you are likely biased towards listening or ignoring. People who you have labelled as being troublemakers or whiners will not get your full attention. This is natural and yet it will keep you from bring able to ‘hear’ them fully and you might even miss out on some crucial information. People who feel ignored by you will generally not be as cooperative or productive and that will lower your results.
  2. Avoid Distractions – In our go-go, non-stop world there are many tasks and people vying for our attention. Unfortunately sneeking a peek at your computer monitor or your smartphone sends a clear message to the person you are with – they are less important than the email or text that might be coming in. If this ‘shiny-object’ syndrome keeps you from paying full attention – silence your email alert and place your monitor out of your line of sight. Focus on the person and they will see you as a better listener.
  3. Let them Finish – You might be thinking that completing the other person’s sentence is a service – hey I’m doing you a favor! In reality, it annoys others when you complete their sentences. Even if it takes them longer than you would like to formulate and communicate their thoughts, it is better to give them the time to finish.
  4. Clarify before Responding –  It is highly likely, even if you are extremely intuitive, that the other person may be communicating something quite different from what they are actually saying. Therefore it is a good idea to repeat back what you think you heard and clarify what they were actually saying before you respond. Otherwise your response may be completely off base.
  5. Take Notes – If the information in the conversation is important and you will need to follow-up and get back to the person, make notes. Employees get frustrated when they bring up a suggestion or issue to their supervisor who says, “I’ll get back to you.” and then doesn’t. So write down a few notes and be sure to follow-up and close the loop on the issue or suggestion.

Take the ‘But’ challenge

One of the mistakes that we make is inserting the word “but” into our sentence which negates our intention of being empathic. For example, “I know you are busy, but I need you to get this done by 3 o’clock.”

The word ‘but’ serves to drive a wedge between the positive statement and your ultimate requests. It is better to either pause… or insert the word ‘and’ in place of ‘but’. For example, “I know you are busy and I was wondering if you can get this done by 3 o’clock?” This subtle change acknowledges the other person’s position and adds you own spin to it. It demonstrates that you were listening. Even if you disagree with what the other person says, it will be more persuasive to acknowledge, add ‘and’ and then restate or reframe your request.

Taking ‘but’ out of your vocabulary is nearly impossible. Reducing its usage will make you a more effective listener and a more persuasive communicator.

Activating today’s Leader Feeder

Identify which one of the listening tips above would help to improve your listening skills and begin to focus on improving yourself in that one area.

Notice the reaction in the people you interact with as they notice your improved listening skills.

Being a better listener will increase the perceptions in others that you are an effective communicator. It helps people feel that they are important to you and to the team. Plus you’ll pick up more ideas for improvement and get greater buy-in to your goals and strategies.

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