Active Listening and Leadership
By Valerie Boudreau
It seems like people are talking at each other more than listening to each other these days. Think about how many emails, text messages, voice mails, and other interruptive, one-way communications we send and receive — there’s a lot more talking than active listening going on.
The ability to listen effectively is not only a critical communication skill, but also a strong leadership skill. Active listening allows employees, customers, and co-workers to feel that their ideas, thoughts and perspectives are heard, accepted, and understood.
To become a better listener, you need to understand what is involved in effective communication and develop the techniques to sit quietly and listen — a feat of true discipline and self-control! You must ignore your own needs and focus solely on the person speaking. Here are a few keys to active listening:
• Focus on the person and the message. Focus your entire attention on the speaker, and listen without judging or trying to come back with a response before they’re halfway through speaking. Look at the speaker’s body language in addition to their words.
• Communicate your attention. Use your body language and gestures to let the speaker know you are locked into what they’re saying. Face them directly and make eye contact. Sit or stand in an open position. Smile and nod occasionally.
• Acknowledge what the person is saying. From time to time, use “uh-huh” or “I see” to indicate you are following what the person is saying. This indicates that you are actively listening and following them, not necessarily that you agree with them.
• Don’t interrupt. Interrupting shows impatience and disrespect, especially if you interrupt with an argument rather than a question. It frustrates the speaker and limits your understanding of the message. Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.
• Build rapport. Engage with the speaker by asking questions or reflecting back what you have heard. For example, say, “what I’m hearing you say is…” or “I’m not sure I understand…” This demonstrates that you are paying attention and will allow you to gain more information.
• Be authentic in your response. Your job as the listener is to gain information, perspective, and understanding. Be candid, open, and honest when responding to the speaker, but do so in a respectful manner. If there is conflict or disagreement, focus your response on the issue rather than the person.
As leaders, to make the best decisions for our organizations, we need as much information and as many different perspectives as possible. Active listening encourages people to proactively share information, ideas, thoughts, and perspectives because they know they will be heard and respected.
Valerie Boudreau leads the Learning & Development team at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog.