Active listening is a skill that is often overlooked, but it’s a big problem in management-employment communications. Manager-leaders who practice and embrace active listening will benefit from improved relationships with their employees, and ultimately a more productive and happy team.
The art of active listening
Active listening is a method of listening in which the listener clearly understands what the other person means in the message being communicated. Active listening requires a lot of discipline and the development of new habits.
Indeed, you must consistently set aside other thoughts and behaviors in order to concentrate on the message being delivered. Then, you must learn to ask questions, to clarify, reflect on and paraphrase what you’ve heard, to ensure you understood the message.
Techniques for remembering the message you’ve heard include:
- Paying attention by using eye contact and nodding as a sign that you understand
- Observing the speaker’s body language and the types of words he or she is using
- Avoiding the temptation to prepare a rebuttal or allow your mind to wander
- Allowing the speaker to finish each point before asking questions
- Responding openly, honestly and respectfully
The goal here is to not only hear the message but to fully understand it, along with any emotion that may be attached.
The benefits of active listening
Active listening can help a manager in multiple ways. It can assist in detecting problems early on and helping with their resolution. It can increase productivity by decreasing misunderstandings and mistakes. What’s more, active listening can demonstrate to others that you respect and care about them.
In this way, employees know that their opinions and ideas are being heard and valued. And colleagues are encouraged and stimulated to reach their own potential to inspire and motivate their teams to take ownership.
Finally the amount of information shared is increased, which in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work.
What holds you back from actively listening?
Common barriers to active listening include:
- Information overload
- Emotions that are not managed: When you are in an elevated emotional state such as anger, joy, frustration, anxiety or elation, your ability to actively listen is compromised.
- Noise: Background noise resulting from machinery, other conversations, music, etc. makes it difficult to hear as well as listen. If the message is important, find a quiet place to talk.
- Visual distractions: These will shift your attention away from the message.
- Boredom: Let’s face it — there are those who speak in a monotone or drag out their message, which can create boredom for the listener. If you find this happening, coach the speaker and help him or her with those communications skills. Done correctly, coaching helps create a stronger relationship through the help provided.
- Pace of communication: This can be too fast or too slow.
Which of these barriers impacts you the most? You may find that the obstacles differ, based on the person you are listening to. But once you’ve identified those that keep you from actively listening, you can put a plan in place and get a coach or accountability partner to help you stick with it.
Related reading: ‘Attentive Listening Skills’