Opportunities are often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be listening. - Unknown
I am often asked, "What is the most important skill required for a leader?" While there are many potential answers—financial acumen, negotiations, planning, time management—my vote is "active listening." Being an active listener is critical in all interpersonal relationships. The active listener is unique, especially in today's world, and this uniqueness translates into personal and professional excellence, with many strong relationships.
At employee roundtables, I would frequently hear the criticism, "My manager doesn't listen to me." When employees would come to see me with an issue, they would often say, "You really listened to me" at the end of our session. What was the difference between the interaction with their manager and the time with me? Active listening.
When you listen actively, you should:
- Focus entirely on the other person, without distractions. The cell phone is put away, e-mail notification is turned off, the computer screen is facing another direction and the door is shut. You have a note pad and pen and are taking notes while the person talks.
- Paraphrase back to the speaker what they are saying to you: "So what I hear you telling me is . . ." "You are angry because . . ." "You believe your leader told you this, but did that."
- You encourage the person to speak, especially about their feeling "Tell me more about this." "How did it make you feel when this happened?"
- Pay attention to body language. During the entire time, you are watching their body language to pick up non-verbal cues. Your body language is open and accepting (no crossed arms or peaked hands). Don't immediately jump into problem solving mode, but rather let the person fully explain the situation and how they feel about it.
When the person is done, you paraphrase back the entire story using the notes that you took while they were speaking and asking them whether you heard them correctly.
Active listeners focus on the problem and the person, picking up significant non-verbal cues. They listen to understand and confirm that their understanding is correct. They carefully document the conversation and refer back to their notes, enhancing their credibility with the speaker. They hold back on solving the problem, acting as a sounding board so the speaker can learn to solve their own problems. Their ultimate solutions are well grounded, thoughtful and tested and of immense help to the speaker. Active listeners are considered respectful and wise, and people want to meet and know them. Their relationships are bountiful and rich, an excellent measure of a surpassing life.
Listen actively this week, and experience a new level of effective communication.
Be an active listener.
Remove distractions so you can focus on the person.
Show open body language.
Hear both sides.
Don't solve the problem unless asked.
Document the meeting.
Great understanding, more effectiveness, rich relationships!
Adapted from Chapter 19, Can You Hear Me Now?, of The Surpassing Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence, thesurpassinglife.com.