September 2016 – ARE YOU A GOOD LISTENER?

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Leadership and communication go hand in hand. If a leader isn’t a good communicator, they shouldn’t expect outstanding results. To be considered an effective communicator, leaders need to make sure they’re clearly understood by other people.

There are several tricks of the trade of good communicators to make sure their message is clear and understood, and to ensure their expectations are met.

First, ask the audience to paraphrase back in their own words what you just said. Then ask what steps they’ll go through to proceed. Finally, ask what they’ll do when difficulties arise.

Good leaders do this until they master the skill of being understood and communicating clearly. Beyond seeking clarity and understanding, great leaders are good listeners. The less we speak, the more we hear, which translates into more information at a leader’s disposal. When a leader engages others in detailed back-and-forth conversation, they demonstrate their focus on the other person, not themselves.

Let’s face it, from a leader’s perspective, it can be easy to issue orders. The biggest challenge for leaders in the communication process is simply listening to what others have to say.

As much as we may not want to accept it, people in general, including leaders, are often focused on themselves. This self-centeredness comes across when we ignore what others say, when we don’t let others get a word in, or we focus on what we’ll say next while others talk.

This isn’t to suggest leaders should just let the people around them ramble aimlessly and chatter on. A leader still needs to guide the conversation to get the information they require. However, instead of barking orders, use the following strategy to skillfully use questions and gather information necessary to solve problems.

Step 1. Behave in ways that make sure people know you’re listening. This is done through the way you look and sound while they’re talking. Nod your head, make occasional and appropriate sounds of understanding like “Uh-huh,” “Oh,” and “Hmm.” Everything about you, from your body posture to your voice volume, must give the impression that you hear and understand.

Step 2. Give feedback to the person during the conversation. This means paraphrasing or repeating back some of the actual words the other person used. This sends a clear signal that you’re listening and that you consider what the other person said is important.

Step 3. Clarify and ask questions. Use open-ended questions to ask for more detailed information. Those kinds of questions begin with words such as what, who, where, when, and how. “Who are you talking about? What do you mean when you say that? Where did it happen? When did it happen? How did it happen?”

The benefit of asking these type of clarification questions is that you can dig deeper and gather more information about what’s been discussed. Questions allow for clarification of details so that you can understand the specifics of a problem, rather than coping with and reacting to vague generalizations.

You can also patiently and supportively demonstrate that you care about what they say. Asking open-ended questions can slow a situation down long enough to see where it’s heading, and you can find out any hidden agendas and reveal exaggerations without being adversarial.

Generally, it’s better to get more clarification than less, even when you think you understand what people are saying.

Step 4. Summarize back to the audience. After listening to the other person and asking clarification questions, summarize back to them what you’ve heard. “So then, if I understand you correctly, this is the issue and it involves these people and this is when it happened, where it happened, and how it happened. Is that right?”

When you do this, at least two things happen: If you’ve missed something, they can fill in the details, and you’ve demonstrated yet again that you’re making a serious effort to fully understand.

Step 5. Confirm you have heard everything. Having listened carefully, you’ve now arrived at a crucial juncture. Rather than assuming anything, be certain that the problem or challenge has been fully voiced. Ask, “Is there anything else?”

Step 6. Discuss a solution. This step may not be applicable to the conversation. However, if a solution is necessary based on what’s been discussed, include the other person at arriving at the solution. Including others builds trust and confidence in you as a leader.

Listening is a skill, like reading a chart. It takes practice to become effective. Follow these steps as a strategy and your communication will improve. As a skillful listener you’ll be considered a good communicator, excellent conversationalist, and a caring leader.

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