Small business managers must constantly switch their focus between tasks to move projects and people forward and respond to issues as they arise. Virtually every shift in attention requires verbal or written interaction with others, including subordinates, superiors, customers and other people outside the organization. Because management work requires a great deal of conversation, a manager’s ability to succeed in the job depends on being able to listen effectively.
5 Ways Active Listening Techniques Benefit Your Workplace
It can be tough to practice active listening when you have meetings to attend, fires to put out, and deadlines quickly approaching. But listening well offers many benefits in the workplace:
- Performance. As a manager, you won’t perform well if you haven’t paid attention to the boss’s instructions or team members’ updates on project challenges and progress. When your mind drifts somewhere else during a conversation, you may miss critical information, misunderstand what has been agreed upon or even take the wrong actions.
- Clarity. Attention to a conversation reduces confusion. It’s easier to understand what another person wants to communicate if you’re listening effectively. And, when the message isn’t clear, using active listening techniques gives you a chance to ask questions and clarify what the other person is trying to say.
- Conflict Resolution. Disagreements – often arising from misunderstandings – are inevitable when people work together. Active listening gives each person involved a chance to understand others’ perspectives and seek resolution, rather than digging in on personal positions.
- Trust. Engaging in productive, back-and-forth exchanges builds trusting relationships by demonstrating to your colleagues at all levels of the organization that you care about what they have to say. People who feel heard, rather than tuned out or “talked at,” collaborate and communicate openly, creating a positive environment that boosts employee retention, engagement and productivity.
- Personal Development. As human beings, we learn very little from hearing ourselves talk. On the other hand, we grow and develop when we listen with open minds to others’ perspectives, ideas and experiences.
7 Active Listening Techniques
For all its benefits, active listening doesn’t come easily to everyone. Like any new skill, developing the ability to listen effectively takes intentionality, time and practice. Managers can start with these seven basics:
- Decide that you will become a better listener. This first step allows you to approach conversations with an open mind and a determination to be fully present throughout the discussion.
- Minimize distractions. As much as possible, step away from your computer, put your cell phone away and eliminate the possibility of interruptions so you can keep your full attention on the conversation at hand.
- Seek to understand and learn. Focus on absorbing what the other person is trying to communicate, rather than on formulating your response while the person is still talking.
- Avoid interrupting. Cutting someone off mid-sentence sends the message that you believe what you have to say is more important than what the other person has to say. If you must interrupt to get clarity right away on an issue the speaker has raised, do it politely.
- Show that you’re paying attention. Verbal encouragement, along with body language like eye contact, appropriate facial expressions, nodding, facing the person and leaning forward, communicate that you’re engaged in and care about what the other person is saying.
- Avoid the instinct to offer advice. When colleagues are sharing a challenge they face, the natural tendency is to quickly provide a solution. People often are simply looking for support or want to “think out loud” with someone else as a way of solving a problem themselves. If they have come to you for advice, they’ll likely ask for it specifically. If you have thoughts that could be authentically helpful, ask whether the speaker wants to hear your ideas before offering them.
- Ask questions. When there’s a natural pause in the conversation, ask questions to clarify and present aspects of the issue the other person may not have considered. Asking questions also will help you figure out the main idea the other person is trying to communicate.
Active listening skills can be learned. Managers who practice them diligently will become more effective leaders and move their organizations toward a culture of productivity and growth.