As a wise friend of mine once said…
“you have two ears and one mouth for a reason!”
Leadership frequently conjures images of someone speaking in front of the podium, or at the very least, in front of their team. It is easy to see why this image abounds however, leadership does not to be about talking others to death.
Recent studies have found that over half of our time at work is spent listening, but we often forget much of what we hear. Even worse, poor listening greatly diminishes your ability to connect with others and be a leader. The irony here is that active listening has the potential to make your more likeable…by up to 40% more likeable some studies suggest. Active listening skills increase trust amongst your team and with your clients, diminish conflicts, motivate others more easily and inspire high levels of confidence.
Active listening is more than just saying less. It’s a skill that involves understanding others, getting them to talk more, and inspiring trust and commitment. The good news is that the ability to actively listen is easy to develop. Whether you’re running a team or just part of one, take these listening skills back to the workplace and you will notice your ability to influence and lead will increase exponentially.
Effective communication doesn’t involve just standing there; to actively listen, you need to encourage questions, and delve deeper if there’s something you don’t understand. For instance, if someone is explaining a complex issue to you, resist the temptation to just nod your head; wait for a brief pause and ask, “can you run that past me a second time please?” Don’t worry about appearing ‘simple’, most people are happy to explain their topics of expertise and you’ll be seen as an interested leader who wants to learn and, more importantly, you are keen to learn from them – this is enormously empowering for team members.
Build the other party’s self esteem – empower them
Studies conducted throughout the world have established that effective listeners make the experience a positive experience for the other party. Instead of being critical, they made the listening experience a positive one; where the person feels supported, and most importantly, trusted. You can start by conveying confidence in the speaker, and making them feel supported. If someone really seems off these past few days, ask them why. They may be having a crisis at home that is affecting their work and unless they know they can trust you to talk about it, they likely won’t bring it up themselves.
Have you ever sat down for a meeting with someone in their own office when they are surrounded by their digital devices? Irritating barely even touches the surface of what it feels like to be on the other end as they keep looking down at their phone when it lights up or turning back to their desktop when they email delivery sound echoes softly. The next time someone enters your office to talk, take the time to “ditch the digital” — turn your phone face down, close the laptop and turn off your monitors. Not only will this make for a more productive conversation, but showing your team that you care enough to close out the rest of the world for those few minutes will go a long way. You are also setting the standard now. If this is your normal routine it is likely you that you won’t be seeing many cell phones out at your monthly meeting. Lead by example and do as you say!
Hone your skills – practice
As with anything else, ‘practice makes perfect’ and until you actively try to improve upon it you will be stuck right where you are. So what can you do to improve? Try to clear your head before an important conversation in order to keep your thoughts from drifting when others are speaking. You may also want to try making mini summaries in your head as the conversation moves along. Check in with the other person to make sure you are still on the same page, “so this is what I am hearing so far,” or “ok, let’s review what we’ve gone over” — this will allow both parties to clarify what has been said and confirm that it was conveyed correctly.
Think like Sherlock Holmes – Clarify, dig deeper and analyse
Chances are, if this listening thing is not something you have mastered yet, your team may be a bit resistant to come to you with issues; it is likely that some anxiety and resistance will be present when they are actually approaching you about something uncomfortable. And nothing will be more frustrating to them than if they feel the conversation was not productive or that nothing will come out of it — so, if you don’t completely understand what their point is, ask. Ask questions such as, “what exactly do you mean by the action of the finance department?” or “can you give me an example of when that took place?” Challenge; this will allow you to fully understand the issue at hand and will encourage the team member to offload everything before leaving your office.
Non-verbal communication – control it
Actively paying attention to your body language, your facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures, can make a huge difference in your interactions and you actually have the ability to make a positive impact. Simple things: uncross your arms, keep steady eye contact, lean in towards the speaker, nod when you hear something interesting and be sure your tone stays positive, even when the message may not be. This will help you listen better by being in tune with your body and also convey a positive message to your listener. Becoming self-aware is one of the best gifts you can give yourself personally and professionally. How you come across to others matters, you need to have strong emotional intelligence and understand how you are being perceived by the rest of the world
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships”