It’s funny that so many managers think of listening as a passive activity, something that we can do whilst doing something else, usually speaking. Active listening takes a bit more effort, but it will help in two ways:
You will really understand what the issues are
The other person will feel listened to
Listening is not the same as hearing. So there are two elements of listening: Taking the time to listen to the other person and making sure the other person feels listened to. Do they believe we are listening to them? How often does someone say “you’re not listening to me?” And we say: “yes I am!” And back and forward it goes: “no you’re not!” “Yes I am!”
We have to not just listen, (and really listen) but be seen to be listening, so the other person really believes we are taking an interest. So how do we do that? Well there are few tips that will really improve your listening, and demonstrate to your people that their views do matter and that you’re interested in hearing what they say
We can’t listen when we’re speaking so give the other person your undivided attention. This means not interrupting and allowing them to finish their sentences. It also means not being ready with your answer, but wait until they have finished so you can respond properly. So take the time to demonstrate you’re listening, and allow them the time to speak.
Focus on them, not you
Don’t get distracted, or look out the window, or at your watch, or start thinking about what you’ll be doing tonight. Because it will show and the other person will not feel listened to. Give them eye contact, show that you’re focused on them and not your own world.
Understand their perspective
Try to appreciate their situation and how they see the world. Even if you disagree with them it begins with understanding their perspective and why they have that perspective. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with their perspective, just that you at least understand it.
Once they’re speaking, you can probe further and test out their perspective with some questions, for example:
“How did that come about?”
“What did you do then?”
“How did you feel about that?”
This really helps open them up, getting them in the flow and allows you to understand the issues underlying what they’re saying.
This keeps the conversation flow going, and demonstrates that you’re listening. So nod your head occasionally, say: “Mm hmm,” “go on,” “tell me more,” to keep it moving. Saying “Mm hmm” doesn’t mean you are agreeing with them, you’re just keeping the flow going and engaging with them.
I know this sounds strange but we often forget the human aspect to listening. This means when they say something funny, smile, or when they say something more serious, show some concern. This isn’t a technique, it’s genuinely engaging and showing you’re concerned and listening.
It is about them, not you and of course you should focus on them But making notes will help in your summary, just the important points, this isn’t about having your head down and avoiding eye contact, but about jotting done some notes so you can remember the conversation. This will also help the other person see that you are taking this seriously.;
No doubt this is the most effective way of making sure you are getting it right, and demonstrating that you’re listening. So stop every so often
“So you seemed to enjoy that project?”
To test your understanding:
“So what you seem to be saying is…”
To bring it all together:
“So let’s summarise my understanding…”
People want to be listened to and be understood. So the rule is: if you are genuinely interested and genuinely listening it will come across and if you’re not – then it will be pretty obvious. So really listen, and really show that you’re listening.