Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Great Leaders are Great Listeners

When we ask participants in seminars why it is important to listen, the responses almost always relate to the need to gain accurate information from employees. That is correct, but it’s only a small part of the reason why it’s important to listen. A greater concern to a leader should be that their employees truly believe that their leader cares about them. One way to say that you truly care about employees and value their opinions is by listening to them with undivided attention.

The following tips will help you to listen more accurately and convey the feeling to others that you really do care about them and value their opinions. Listening involves not only hearing the speaker’s words, but also understanding the message and its importance to the speaker, and then communicating that understanding to the speaker.

Following these five guidelines will improve your listening ability:

   1. Develop an attitude of wanting to listen.

      Being a good listener starts with a positive attitude toward listening. If you are not in the right frame of mind for listening, you will miss valuable information. Remember, you can learn something from everyone. And if you cannot listen at this time, reschedule the conversation for another time when you will be able to give the other person your undivided attention. They will be thankful and impressed that you care enough to reschedule.

   2. Focus your attention on understanding the other person’s meaning, not on formulating your response.

      A good listener is “other-focused” rather than “self-focused.” Your goal is to understand the other person. Show the speaker that you are listening by using “attending skills.”
          * Maintain eye contact to show interest and to observe the speaker.
          * Lean forward slightly to communicate concern and to better comprehend the message.
          * Come out from behind a desk or any other physical barrier.
          * Nod your head to indicate understanding.
          * Smile when the speaker uses humor.
          * Allow for pauses–don’t feel you have to fill the space with your words while the other person needs time to collect his or her thoughts.

   3. Use open-ended questions to open up communication.

      Open-ended questions facilitate the conversation and provide an invitation to respond back and forth. They also let the other person know that his or her thinking is important to you.

   4. Use paraphrasing to ensure understanding.

      Paraphrasing shows the speaker that you are listening and that you understand what he or she has said. It also ensures that your interpretation of the message is correct.

          * “You think the XYZ program is not a good idea because…”
          * “It sounds like your major concerns on this project are…”

   5. Summarize conversations to ensure understanding and provide closure.

      A summary statement is a concise restatement of the key points discussed during a lengthy conversation. The summary brings the conversation to a close. It may also include a recap of specific actions or agreements made during the conversation.

          * “It seems that we agree that the project has gotten off track and that we will take the following steps to correct the situation…”
          * “As I understand it, you feel that we should bring the marketing people in on this proposal. As we discussed, I will contact them and set up a meeting for next week to discuss their involvement.”

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