Every piece of advice you read about how to be a good leader talks about the need for good communication – an able leader is an able communicator! Yes, quite right. But communication is a two-way process. For any leader the ability to listen is right up there with the ability to deliver the message. And listening is more the just hearing a sound and knowing what the words usually mean.
In coaching we spend a lot of time thinking about active listening – for us it is a core skill. Active listening is hearing with engagement. In active listening you work to not just to hear the words, but to understand exactly what the other person is trying to say.
For coaches active listening is important not only because we need to understand but also because when we listen fully, the client feels appreciated and respected – it helps them to have trust.
Surely as a leader you want, just as much as coach, to be trusted and in due course to inspire your organization.
Active listening is a skill and it requires practice but here are some tips to help you on your way.
- Position Be somewhere where you can see and be seen by your hearer for important messages. Talking one to one or in small groups, sit up straight or lean forward slightly to show your attentiveness through body language.
- Maintain comfortable eye contact. Again one to one and in small group you need to judge the night degree of eye contact. Give good warm “face”, and don’t stare them down or threaten with your glare. Remember, acceptable eye contact changes with culture. In some cultures it is very rude indeed to look straight into someone’s eyes.
- Minimize external distractions. Reduce external noise. Turn off the TV in the corner of the room. Ask people to stop what else they are doing and switch off your mobile phone. If someone comes to talk to you in your office, it is better to ask them to wait outside than to go on writing whilst they are in the room. Writing on looks arrogant and it sends a clear message about what you think of their status relative to yours.
- Respond appropriately When someone is talking to you show that you understand. You can murmur (“uh-huh” and “um-hmm”) and nod. Raise your eyebrows. Say words such as “Really” and “Interesting,” as well as more direct prompts: “What did you do then?” and “What did she say?”. All these things show that you are interested and encourage the other person to keep talking.
- Focus solely on what the speaker is saying. If you concentrate properly on what someone is saying to you, your response will usually come naturally. If there is a silence – it usually means something. Silences often follow important statements, they give us breathing and thinking time. Don’t spend thinking time on what to say, spend it on reflection about what has been said, then you will find the conversation usually flows.
- Be aware of what is happening inside you. You may find your own thoughts intruding as you try to listen. This can happen particularly if what is being said touches your own emotions. But let your thoughts go for not and keep refocusing back on the speaker, Time afterwards to reflect on what this meant for you.
- Suspend judgement Wait until the speaker has finished before forming your opinion, even if they are complaining. In fact, it is even more important,if you think you are likely to disagree with what they are saying . Take the time to take in all that they have said before you give an opinion.
- Don’t jump to tell them what you did last time. People don’t want to be thought of as just another number, case or employee. Treat each person you speak to as an individual meriting individual consideration. There will be a time to use past examples but judge their use with care – packaged solutions do not blend well with feelings.
- Be engaged Ask questions for clarification, once again, wait until the speaker has finished. Don’t interrupt their train of thought. After you ask questions, paraphrase their point to make sure you didn’t misunderstand. You could start with: So you’re saying…” This shows that you are really listening.
- Practice your active listening skills, particularly handling silence. Learn to use it to better understand what is being said to you. As your listening skills develop, so will your speaking skills and your ability to hold a conversation. You will be surprised how active listening draws people to you. People warm to those who take the trouble to really listen to them.
Wendy Mason is a Life and Career Coach. She helps people have the confidence they need to be successful at work and to change career while maintaining a good work/life balance. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Registered with Life Coach Directory
Other articles by Wendy
- Monday Quotes for Leaders and Managers – Management and Motivation
- Leadership and Emotional Intelligence
- Emotional Intelligence and your relationships