Listening is a fundamental communication skill, yet most people don’t understand its significance or know how to improve it.
Yes, everyone knows about active listening, not interrupting and selective listening. But, there is much more to be gained from good listening. And, much more to be learned about how to do it well.
Leaders “hear” a huge amount of information every day. In Listening-The Forgotten Skill, by Madelyn Burley-Allen, the author identifies why listening is so significant to leadership.
Listening is critical in the following ways:
- Problem solving – Giving people a chance to talk through a problem may clarify their thinking about a subject and provide a necessary emotional release.
- Reducing Tension – It gives others a chance to get their problems/concerns in the open, clearing the air of tension and hostility.
- Promotes Communication – Skillful listening is a chance to solve problems before they emerge as conflicts.
- Develops an active mind – Active listening keeps people attentive and attuned to what is being said, emotions, body language, etc.
- Enhances Self-regard – Truly listening to someone assumes the other person has worth, dignity and something to offer.
Obviously, the benefits to listening set the foundation for great leadership.
What tips and techniques work for increasing the amount of information we actually hear? In Karen Anderson’s book, Making Meetings Work, the author suggests some interesting ways to heighten your listening skills.
- Listen with your best ear. Most people hear more effectively and efficiently through their left ear. Turn that ear toward the person talking with you or place yourself on his/her left side.
- Tell yourself to learn something new from this person.
- Restate what the person just said before making your own comments.
- Listen for the person’s transitions, such as “Another important point is…”, “For example,…”, “To further explain…”. This indicates they are moving on – do you need to ask any questions? Did you fully understand what was said?
- Use visualization techniques to imagine what the speaker is saying. Create a mental movie of the message.
- Be actively silent. Put your hand in front of your mouth if you have to.
- Resist external distractions. Concentrate on concentrating.
- Focus on ideas. Listen for the speaker’s central ideas.
- Search for the full kernel of the theme. Stay out of the judgment arena.
- Summarize. When appropriate, confirm with the speaker that you are getting the message.
By systematically practicing and incorporating listening techniques, leaders are able to gain the respect and trust of those around them. Listening like any other communication skill requires practice.
Good listening yields high benefits for leaders.