There’s much a leader can gain from working on her listening skills: an encouraged and inspired team, an environment that fosters idea sharing, and closer relationships with colleagues and other professionals.
Listening isn’t just about being polite. It’s about respect, humility, and growth. So often we treat listening like waiting for our turn up to bat. Maybe this is because we believe our thoughts are more important, or maybe it’s just habit. But this way of listening limits the growth we can achieve with others. It limits both the relationship and the collaboration.
Practice good listening skills with a family member or friend. Take turns talking about your day. Don’t interrupt, don’t queue up comments or questions. Practice eye contact and responding through facial expressions. If you’re like me, it’s hard not to interrupt and ask questions. But what I realized is that I’m leading the conversation when I do this. When I just listen, I learn so much more about the person, because I’m giving them the space to take the conversation where they want.
These are active listening tools. According to mindtools.com, “The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.” The website contains more advice to becoming a better active listener.
Other ways to practice listening skills at work
Trust your team and seek their advice
In Inc Magazine, Evernote CEO Dave Engberg talks about learning to trust his employees as the cure for micromanagement. Engberg writes, “I interact with roughly 30 Evernote people on a daily basis, and I can say without hesitation that they all do their jobs better than I could hope to. Every time we have a discussion about work, I learn something.” When you trust your team, you want to learn from them and seek their advice. As a result, your employees will feel empowered.
Follow up via email
When you’ve had a meaningful conversation with someone, following up via quick emails to summarize their points or to let them know you heard what they were saying can help with two things: 1)You’ll remember what you talked about and have a summary you can refer back to and 2)The other person will feel listened to. They can even clarify if you misunderstood something.
Allow for Silence
This can be a tricky one. We can be afraid of silence at work, but creative things happen in moments of silence. When you’re one-on-one with a coworker, try slowing down the conversation and purposefully accepting pauses in the conversation. Remember the skills you’ve practiced. Make the other people you’re talking to feel heard and appreciated. Let them know that they can take the conversation in new directions. Of course, you might have to balance this when you’re pressed for time or especially in larger group settings. When you’re leading meetings – people are easily led astray on tangents. But maybe find other times for those tangents – like brainstorming sessions. Encourage people to share their ideas and let them know you’re listening. Open your office doors and let people be heard.