Listening Skills Series: How to Develop Your Own Listening Skills
When you coach C-Level Executives and Emerging Leaders for a living, you get plenty of opportunities to witness the listening skills of those CEOs and newer Managers and Leaders. Unfortunately, many of us are not exactly wired to be great listeners; sometimes we’re lacking empathy for the other person or occasionally we’re too busy pondering our rebuttal to be understanding the message we’re being delivered. That is very inconvenient because every person that we work with wants very badly to be seen, heard, and understood on the road to becoming valued and appreciated. Weak listening skills, if you want to call it that, or the inability to listen attentively when we’re in a conversation or meeting puts us at a distinct disadvantage. Many of us are so busy trying to help that we cannot wait to begin providing advice when someone is trying to relate a problem that they’re having. While it’s great that you want to help, rushing to provide advice often comes across as a bit disrespectful at best or completely tone deaf, at worst. Remember, there isn’t a person on this planet who doesn’t desperately want and need to be heard, and understood. You might want to take the time to read on, and discover some of the keys to helping yourself to understand what everybody’s been trying to tell you all these years…
Here are a handful of best practices that will serve you well, when you make the effort to become a more attentive listener and try to really understand the things that your people are trying to tell you.
- Prepare for a conversation whenever possible. Empty your head of distractions by writing down work in progress, etc. to clear the decks. Many of us fear going blank in a crucial conversation, so prevent that by jotting down the questions you’d like to ask and the points you want to make. Remember that a great conversation involves both parties, and commit to speaking less than the other person, whenever possible. Remind yourself to drop your assumed bias and enter the conversation in a nice, relaxed, open, and candid fashion. Focus on coming out of the conversation with both you AND your colleague winning. You can also focus on being a GREAT listener. Set aside your mobile devices, phones, and tablets, and make the conversation a priority. Be perfectly present. Now that you’re prepared, remember that you have two ears and one mouth in proportion for a very good reason. You’re ready for the conversation!
- When the conversation begins, ask if it’s okay to take notes because you want to listen well. Take great notes and capture the essence of the dialogue. Ask questions if anything is unclear. It’s always okay to ask “Can You Help Me Understand?”. Watch the facial expressions and body language, as they will often highlight the deeper meaning of the speech. Get comfortable with a little silence. Silence is said to be God’s way of giving you a second chance to reflect and develop a deeper understanding. Let silence do the heavy lifting. People say a lot of meaningful stuff when they’re trying to avoid uncomfortable silence. Use that. Never interrupt, listen politely. Thank the other person for their views and express your respect, even when you may disagree.
- Ask great questions to build your understanding. Some of my favorites are: “Help me understand?”, “How can I help you to be more successful this year?” and “What do you need from me right now?”
- Remember this, you do NOT have to react every time that you disagree with someone. You do NOT need to score points and keep score. Just listen. Remind yourself to breathe and to listen with purpose, or listen with intent. When you do that, you will reach a calmer state and be more open to receiving the message that the other person is delivering. If you disagree, the time will come for you to share your opinion, but you needn’t rush to get to that immediately.
- Remember how important it is to focus on your colleague as they speak and to make and maintain eye contact. This is especially difficult to do when taking your notes. You will need to ask the speaker to slow down occasionally so you can avoid writer’s cramp and can look up from your tablet and let them know you’re focused on them and their viewpoint. Smile and remain open.
This is perhaps a pretty good start to the journey to becoming a fantastic listener. While it’s OK to want to help, it is far more important to be present and listen intently, to give yourself the best shot at truly understanding what you’re hearing. These five little nuggets will help to prepare you to improve your process and to be well positioned to listen deeply and attentively. Remember, every person you’re going to meet in this life wants to be seen and noticed, they want to be heard and understood, and they want you to show them that you value them and appreciate them. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Seems like it might make a pretty terrific priority if you ask me. I wish you the best of luck taking your listening game to the next level. I’m convinced you can do it. Just make it your priority and get started.
Michael is a Master’s Executive Development, Leadership, and Business Coach. Michael is a member of the Professional Business Coaches Alliance and the founder of a fast-growth Coaching and Consulting firm with coaches in Florida, Minnesota, Iowa, and Arizona. Michael and his team of coaches can help you with the development of your leadership and management skills, your confidence in interacting with others, and so many more valuable competencies. If you’d like to learn more to take your listening skills to a completely different level, check back here in the coming weeks for a couple of additional blog articles on how you can develop your own best listening practices. If you’d like to speak with Michael or one of his high-performance coaches, send a message to email@example.com.