On improving your listening skills
The ability to hear the right things cannot be stressed enough in business situations. Yet most of us, specially in senior management positions, tend to take this skill for granted. There could be many reasons why people “mishear.” As a senior manager, if you encounter such a problem, ask yourself these questions: ‘Are you hearing only what you want to hear?’ ‘Are you answering only your own questions?’
Bernard Ferrari, author of “Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All” makes a compelling case that anyone can improve from a mediocre listener to a “power listener.” He defines power listening as “the art of probing and challenging the information garnered from others to improve its quality and quantity.”
Recognize that all conversations have intellectual and emotional components. It’s important to “decouple” the two, according to Ferrari, as several emotions are guaranteed to hinder communication:
- Resentment and envy
- Fear and feeling threatened
- Fatigue and frustration
- Positive emotions and over-excitement
Anyone can learn how to shape and focus a conversation, make others feel respected, stay focused on what’s really important, and uncover the hidden pieces of information that can change everything. It just takes a commitment to practice some new skills and habits.
We offer some steps that form a good listening foundation as thought starters.
10 tips on improving your listening skills as a manager
- Show respect: Put down the BlackBerry. Focus entirely on the speaker and ask relevant questions. Remember the goal is to ensure the free and open flow of information and ideas.
- Be fully in the moment: When listening pay attention not only to the words but the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. This will give you information that will be as important as the words themselves.
- Keep quiet: Try to devote 80% of each conversation to listening and only 20% to speaking. Be purposeful in seeking what you need from a conversation. Set limits for discussing complex problems so that your conversations don’t spiral out of control.
- Maintain focus: Power listening requires you to help your conversation partner isolate the problem, issue, or decision at hand. Discard extraneous details or emotions that interfere with homing in on what truly matters.
- Listen to the words and try to picture what is being said: Allow your mind to create a mental model of the information being communicated. Whether a literal picture or an arrangement of abstract concepts, your brain will do the necessary work if you stay focused, with senses fully alert.
- Put yourself in their shoes: When they are speaking, make an effort to think of where they are coming from and why. People will appreciate that you made the effort to understand and really hear them.
- Challenge assumptions: Good listeners seek to understand — and challenge — the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation. Challenge even the most basic assumptions you are using in your business discussions.
- Pick up key points: After they finish talking, let them know that you heard them by mentioning the key points you heard them say and ask them to clarify anything that you did not understand.
- Practice active listening: Most people are thinking of how they are going to reply when someone is talking. Instead of doing that, try to focus completely on what the person is saying. Pretend that you will be tested on how much of what they were saying you heard and understood.
- Develop curiosity: People who are naturally curious see conversations as learning opportunities. They are always looking to discover or learn something new and see everyone they talk to as having the potential to teach them something.
Create a focused, productive conversation by reducing external and internal background noise. Ask questions that highlight key issues and minimize the urge to stray from them. We wish you luck as a great manager!