Home - - Hey, Are You Listening? 4 Tips for Listening Better

Hey, Are You Listening? 4 Tips for Listening Better

Hey, Are You Listening? 4 Tips for Listening Better

  • Sep 20, 2017

Research continually indicates that listening is a key differentiating factor between average leaders and good leaders. According to research done at Columbia University, good listening skills are tied to an increased ability to influence and persuade others and to develop effective work relationships. As a leader in your organization, good listening skills can take you from being an average boss to a great boss with great potential for influencing your employees and increasing your overall productivity.

Unfortunately, however, not all leaders are the best listeners. Most bosses tend to have an aggressive streak, a “get ‘er done” personality, and are more comfortable directing words than receiving them. Good leaders, however, know how to step back and lend an ear. And the best leaders know how to go from hearing to listening. This practice changes the dynamic of their team, the productivity of their work, and the quality of their result.

But how do leaders develop listening skills, especially those for whom listening doesn’t come as easily? Perhaps we can turn to one of the professional fields notoriously known for having good listeners: counseling and therapy. Good listening is an essential part of a counselor, therapist, or psychologist’s job (just as it should be an essential part of yours), and professionals in this field seem to have mastered the art of listening.

Therapists commonly use a practice known as motivational interviewing to help their clients find motivation, make positive decisions, and accomplish goals. Though not all the aspects of motivational interviewing are applicable to you and your organization, there are several aspects that can contribute to helping you develop and improve your listening skills.

In motivational interviewing, listening is compared to a row boat. It’s a vehicle that can get you from point A to point B, but only when you have both oars in the water and exert the necessary effort to making the boat move. Listening is much more of an active skill than a passive one. It requires conscious effort to understand and create an exchange of dialogue. Take a look at the “oars” used by clinicians and therapists and consider how they can help you improve your listening skills and bridge the communication gap between you and your employees:

O: Open questions. Ask your employee open-ended questions, such as, “Help me understand what you’re talking about,” or “How would you like things to be different?” or “What solutions have you already tried?” Asking open questions invites your employee to open up and present their story without being led in a specific direction. It encourages your employee to voice their own ideas and as a result encourages autonomy and proactivity in the future.

A: Affirmations. Affirmations are statements that recognize your employee’s strengths and acknowledge small triumphs. Everyone benefits from positive reinforcement, especially your own employees. Saying something as simple as “I appreciate that you’re willing to talk to me about this” or “That’s a good suggestion” or “I appreciate your patience with this situation. You’re clearly doing your best to find a solution” can build employee confidence and lay the groundwork for continued positive communication in the future.

R: Reflections. The purpose of reflective listening is to aid in understanding. Reflective listening involves statements such as “If I understood correctly…” or “To me it sounds like…” that help ensure that the speaker’s message and the listener’s understanding of the message are the same. We’ve all been in a conversation where we felt like we expressed ourselves clearly but find out later that the only clear part of our message was that it was clearly misunderstood. Reflective listening can help ensure that you understood your employee’s concern or perspective and can help overcome communication barriers. Too often we listen with the intent to reply and not with the intent to understand. Reflections can help you focus on understanding and not on what you’re going to say next.

S: Summarizing. A summary at the end of a conversation can provide a final chance to clear up any miscommunications and clarify steps for moving forward. Give a brief summary of the points your employee mentioned. Give the employee a chance to provide clarification by ending with, “does that sound right?” or “Is there anything I missed?”

Employing these listening skills can help your employees feel heard and understood and take you from being a good boss to being a great one. Nothing is more empowering than feeling you’ve been heard, listened to, validated, and understood, and it can work wonders for your organization.

Do you have questions about how you can listen better or improve communication within your organization? Contact one of our expert HR representatives at (888) 407-1032 and we’ll help you get on the road to smarter HR.