Everything must be done … yesterday. We’ve become so connected to instant information, instant results, apps, cell phones etc., we’ve actually become disconnected from the people we work with, our peers, senior leaders, and collaborators.
In this World of NOW, listening gets overlooked as being a passive part of business when, in fact, active listening is one of the most powerful tools of communication managers have at their fingertips. The lack of being heard is a top grumble in employee engagement surveys. Active listening is about knowing what your team has said and/or meant to say. It’s about having co-workers and direct reports feel heard. It must be more intentional, less selective. It’s a key piece of becoming a successful leader and team player.
So how do we rescue the lost art of listening?
Easy. We go back to the basics.
1. Unplug. We’re all addicted to our phones and tablets and the e-mail that’s looming over our heads. But when we’re nodding our heads, half-listening, while scanning through the latest reports, we’re NOT listening. When someone asks to meet with you, turn your screens off, make eye contact, and listen.
2. Be honest. There are times we’re all distracted and overworked. If you’re not connected to the person, let them know it’s a bad time. You want to listen, but you need to get through this last report. Then schedule a one-to-one meeting when you won’t feel the pressure of what needs to get done NOW.
3. Practice makes perfect. Basic listening skills need to be practiced. They’re probably a little rusty! Paraphrase what has been said. Ask follow-up questions to get information clear. Confirm what is being communicated (DON’T ASSUME!). Listen to what’s NOT being said … key words that reveal intention. David Mamet said, “People may or may not say what they mean, but they always say something designed to get what they want.”
4. Recognize your favorites. There are always a few voices in any organization that get heard. Human beings are … human. Biases abound. If you don’t recognize your own biases, you might miss out on some pretty fantastic ideas from others. As a manager, your job is to listen to all people. Sometimes, especially those you don’t like.
5. Work is work; therapy is therapy. The whole open-door policy is simply … ineffective. Everybody needs their boundaries. That said, sometimes a collaborator or peer needs to unload. They’re not necessarily asking for advice. They just need a safe space to express themselves. Listen. If the conversation takes a gossip-y turn, steer it back to assertive communication and actions. Don’t feed pettiness. And move on. If this becomes a habit, it might need to be addressed differently. People are people and sometimes just need a safe space to vent.
There’s a two-to-one ratio between ears and mouth. Apply this! Listen more than you speak. Listen to understand the messages and intentions of collaborators and senior staff. Listen, listen and listen. As a manager, this is one of the most powerful tools in your box to improve employee engagement, communication, and production within the organization.