Put Active Listening Into Practice
Ever catch yourself formulating a response before someone is finished talking? People have a tendency to “hear out” others half-heartedly, but great leaders are usually highly skilled at active listening. In fact, it’s one of the building blocks to excellent communication — and one that takes practice. You have to give people time to finish speaking, pay attention to body language, and never interrupt. Then, acknowledge and replay what you hear using the communication loop model from MAP’s 2.5 Day Program. If someone disagrees with you, clarify specifically what part of the message they disagree with and why. Active listening is a powerful leadership trait for business leaders who want to communicate effectively with their direct reports and employees.
Interestingly, a lot of leaders think they are already experts at active listening… until they do an exercise that demonstrates otherwise, according to Steve Behunin, a member of MAP’s management coaching team. Whenever Behunin puts on MAP’s 2.5 Day Program, he likes to give attendees a “little test.” Everyone gets some basic, verbal instructions, which they must then “play back” to demonstrate they were listening. And that’s when they learn that active listening is much more complicated than cleaning out your ears with a Q-tip!
“No one gets it right, and they’re always pretty shocked to learn how far off they are,” he says. “It’s simply because they haven’t trained their mind and ears to practice this technique.”
If people aren’t thinking of their response as they’re “listening,” then they are often misinterpreting the information in a way that reflects their thoughts and beliefs. So that’s why the playback piece is critical in the communication loop. It creates clarity and reveals potential misunderstandings, which, if left as such, usually cause more serious problems down the road.
Here’s another reason to put active listening into practice. When you replay someone else’s words, it validates and demonstrates a very basic level of respect for that person’s contribution to whatever is at topic. You don’t have to like or agree with what they say. But active listening often helps to diffuse emotions and focus on facts. It also discloses to others that you communicate with professionalism, accuracy and integrity. And that, my friends, will help you earn respect — something every great leader can appreciate at the end of the day.
Active listening isn’t easy, mainly because poor listening skills are bad habits. Maybe it’s how you were raised or part of your “culture.” But in a business setting, using poor listening skills can put you and your company at a serious disadvantage. Fortunately, active listening is one good habit that can be practiced and perfected. Do this and, pretty soon, you’ll be catching yourself before you fall into the familiar, poor-listening trap. Discipline is the key, which should become easier and more worthwhile once you personally experience the benefits of stronger, more effective communication.
The following list is an abbreviated version of Steve Behunin’s top tips for effective listening.
To Improve Your Active Listening Skills:
- Stay focused on what’s being said
- Send non-verbal affirmations to the speaker
- Don’t get to the end of a sentence before the speaker (i.e., finish his/her sentences)
- Avoid getting defensive
- Improve retention – practice paraphrasing
- Listen with the “Whole You”
- Be alert to your prejudices
- Avoid negative or disruptive mannerisms
- Ask for more information
- Determine what the ‘central theme’ means to/for you
Can you read other people’s body language?