At one time or another, most people have been a business employee and know what they look for from a qualified leader. Nothing proves more endearing, nor inspires more respect, than a manager with strong listening skills. Listening skills are a learned performance and, with practice, can help anyone become an accomplished manager that portrays effective leadership.
An employee always responds more productively when he feels like he is truly being “heard” by his superiors. A strong manager will perfect the art of listening and acquire techniques that show others he is truly hearing what they have to say. According to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Managing People, by Arthur R. Pell, the keys to good listening skills include:
Eliminate distractions: Preceding a lengthy discussion with an employee, the manager should see that phone calls are held, papers are cleared from view, and all other distractions are removed. Receiving calls or glancing at paperwork are the two most significant offenses that display poor listening skills. If You cannot accomplish this in the manager’s office, move the discussion to a conference room or alternate location.
Appear Interested: Do not sit too comfortably. A slack posture or inattentive appearance gives the impression that the listener is only mildly interested in what the speaker has to say. When an employee is trying to make a point, they will most likely subdue further discussion if they feel the management is only tolerating their attempt. So, sit up in the chair, lean forward a bit, and proffer continued eye contact.
Remain active in the conversation: A strong listener asks questions. Inquiries should only be imposed, though, when there is a pause in the conversation.
Be an empathetic listener: Managers need to show employees that they can put themselves in that person’s shoes. Sympathetic listeners hear what others are saying and try to feel what they are feeling. Speakers will pick up on this, and the effect is gratifying and induces continued revelations. Managers who practice this technique will learn more about their employees than with any other method.
Use silence to inspire information – when an employee stops speaking, wait 5 seconds, allowing them to emphasize their point. The additional information tends to be more revealing than the practiced dialect they originally intended.
Take notes: In an employee/employer meeting, rather impromptu or scheduled, a good listener and proficient manager will take notes. Jot down keywords or phrases, keep records of quotes and figures as later these critical facts can be elusive. The follow-up to strong listening skills is as important as the initial conversation. If an employee sees that a manager remembers what they discussed, that employee will most likely be even more forthcoming in the future.
Keeping strong and open relations with employees is one of the most productive advantages a good manager can possess. In addition to becoming a proficient listener, managers with strength in this area will elicit advanced productivity while ensuring the lines between manager and employee remain clearly defined. Managing staff is complex, and learning how to be a good manager is an ongoing process. However, seasoned managers make effective leadership appear effortless.