The author G.K. Chesterton noted that “there is a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” Of the four communication skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing – we learn listening first, but as time goes on many of us seem to lose interest in truly listening to what others have to say. Leaders would do well to work on listening to inspire workers and increase productivity. According to studies performed by Johnson and Bechler in the 1990’s, there is a strong correlation between listening skills and leadership effectiveness.
When leaders become more aware of their employees as individuals, they increase loyalty and create more trusting relationships. Managers who listen to their employees’ ideas, pay attention to their needs and show that they really care are likely to boost their performance. Listening is a key leadership “soft skill” that is a major component of emotional intelligence. By tuning into the needs of others, you can pick up on issues that may have a negative impact on engagement and productivity.
Active listening means putting aside distractions and focusing on the person who is speaking. It means putting away the cell phone, not answering the land line and giving people your full attention. When you listen actively, you are listening to find out what the person has to say. It is not about hearing what you want to hear, interrupting or biding your time until you have a chance to respond.
Blocks to Effective Communication
Sometimes leaders throw up unintentional roadblocks to effective communication when they are listening to others. As a boss, when you ask why questions employees tend to become defensive. Delivering unsolicited advice and issuing quick, off the cuff reassurances without providing guidance and resources can also block communication. Managers can come across as patronizing when they say something like “I know how you feel” without taking the time to analyze the problem, discuss it thoroughly and come up with a mutually agreed upon solution.
The good news is that you can improve your listening skills with practice. Here are some tips you can follow to become an active listener:
- Be Quiet and Listen
You may think that this is an obvious first step, but many people, managers included, find it difficult to remain silent and just listen. Resist the urge to interrupt with your own thoughts and allow the speaker to finish in his/her own time. Silence can slow down the conversation and give the employee time to think. It can also help diffuse an unproductive interaction.
- Be Aware and Present
Sometimes, without realizing it, managers mentally prepare their response before the employee is finished speaking. Active listening means you have to be one hundred percent present. Show that you are attentive by facing the employee squarely, looking the employee right in the eye and listening without becoming emotional.
- Use Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues
Leaders can use brief, positive verbal cues to show the employee they are listening carefully. Keep the conversation going by using words like, “I understand” and “then?” Your tone of voice and verbal acknowledgement can help you express empathy and show that you understand what the speaker is saying. Use body language like leaning forward or nodding to confirm your interest and demonstrate your understanding.
- Listen for Real Meaning
Emotionally intelligent leaders listen to the speaker’s words, but they also listen for real meaning. Focus on the employee to recognize the true intention behind the communication and figure out how you can help. The speaker’s non-verbal body language and facial expressions can give you some clues. Become an empathetic leader by trying to see things from the employee’s point of view.
- Show your Understanding
During the conversation, show your encouragement and understanding by paraphrasing the speaker’s message at appropriate times. Pause at key points for emphasis. Repeat and summarize the important ideas as a sign of positive feedback. This technique can also help to avoid any misunderstandings.
- Practice the Art of Questioning
If your focus starts to waver if the employee finds it hard to get to the point or when the speaker appears self-conscious or nervous, ask a leading question like “Would you like to talk to me about it?” or “Why don’t you tell me more?” You can also ask an open-ended question beginning with the words what, where, who, why or which. “Big picture” reflective questions like “where do you want to go from here?” or “how do you think I can help you?” are a good way to end the conversation.
As much as you would like to hear an employee out, there may be times when emotions take over and the employee becomes angry or aggressive. If this happens, it is best to redirect the conversation to a more neutral topic. You might sum up a productive discussion by talking about the consequences of various courses of action.
Veriato is an Employee Productivity Monitoring solution that can help you stay on top of employee behavior and promote productivity in the workplace. Our system can track and record your employee online activity to ensure compliance with company policies. We provide video playback of all onscreen activity and alerts when necessary. Our daily, weekly and monthly reports inform you of the productivity of each worker. The Veriato system can monitor remote worker productivity as well as in-office worker productivity.
With Veriato, you will be notified of any suspicious activity and you will see who is working hard, and who isn’t. Knowing if a productivity problem exists will allow you to increase your management effectiveness and ultimately the productivity of your employees.
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