Three Ways to Improve Your Listening

As I have interviewed countless leaders on what communication skills they think are important, almost always in the top three is listening.

One of the first things to do to enhance your listening is to get into relationship with the people you are listening to. That means you care.  It means you put aside the devices and distractions. You can also shift your physicality to support your listening. Start by facing the person, make eye contact, and open up your posture. All of this signals to them (and your brain) that you want to listen.

Photo credit: myfuture.com (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

Ask yourself, how do you feel when you feel completely listened to? When you know you are being heard? My experience is that clients open up, they share more freely, and we often get to the belief behind the belief. I was recently working with a project manager and he was struggling with completion. As I listened and let him know I was listening (through attention, body language, and inquiry), he soon heard himself say, “Planning” over and over. What he did not hear himself saying was, “doing.” By listening deeply he had a chance to slow down and hear himself. Now he is in action, doing and completing.

Another way to improve listening is to seek clarity. All too often in a conversation we will hear a word or phrase and assume we know what it means. How often has a contract or project gotten out of scope because someone did not get clear?

I can remember one hospital agreement from my time selling. Our team was working accounts that were aged 60 – 150 days from date of service. Because the client liked the work, they started offering more accounts. There were older accounts. They required more work. And our managers did not clarify the nature of these accounts prior to accepting them and, as a result, our margins declined. The scope changed because of this exchange:

CLIENT: “We’d like to send you more work.”

MANAGEMENT: “Great send it.”

Another way to improve listening and ensure clarity is to paraphrase. That is to repeat what you heard them say in your own words. This does two things. One, it allows them to clarify their answer or instruction if your understanding is different than theirs. Two, it demonstrates to them that you are listening. They almost get a sense of, “They get me.” And we all respond well to people that get us.

If you are a manager seeking more influence with your team, examine how you are listening.

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