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Sunday, April 25, 2010

10 Tips for Good Listening

The first step in becoming a good communicator is to learn how to listen.  You think that you already know how to listen, but many people have more trouble with this seemingly simple activity than you realize.  They may hear the words, but that isn't the same as listening.

Here are ten useful tips that can help you become a good listener:

1. Take time to listen.  Obviously there are times when you're busy for extended discussions.  But you need to set aside times when you can listen carefully to employee's problems, reactions, concerns, and suggestions.

2.  Let employees know that you're approachable.  Adopt an "open door" policy.  That is, communicate your willingness to hear what employees have to say.  Demonstrate that it's safe to talk to you.

3.  Put the other person at ease. Give them space and time and "permission" to speak their peace.   Watch how you look at them, how you stand or sit, it makes a huge difference. Relax, and let them relax as well.

4.  If people don't come to you, go to them.  Some employees may take advantage of your "open door" by approaching you with their concerns.  Others will be reluctant to do so, for any of f variety of reasons (shyness, fear of being judged, unwillingness to complain about others, and so on).

5. Set-up multiple means, both formal and informal, for communicating with employees.  Some employees are comfortable talking face to face.  Others would rather send a note by email.  Some will speak up during a formal team meeting.  Others will reveal their concerns only in casual conversations around the snack machine.  Make multiple possibilities available so that you hear from everyone.

6.  Pay attention to nonverbal signals: tone, vocalizations (such as "um," "uh," laughs, and sighs), body postures, and gestures.  Often a person will say one thing but signal nonverbally that the true meaning is different.  For instance, "okay" said with a deep sigh does not really mean "okay."

7. Remove distractions. Good listening means being willing to stop working computer, close a door, stop reading your email, or only answer emergency calls.. Give the speaker your full attention, and let them know they are getting your full attention.

8.  Avoid anticipation.  Don't jump to conclusions or assume that you understand a person's comment before he or she has finished talking.  You may misunderstand, or you may discourage people from saying what they truly mean.

9.  Suspend judgment.  Don't decide on the spot whether the speaker is right or wrong.  Wait until you have a chance to think the matter over.

10. Use active listening techniques.  Active listening mean taking an active part in the conversation to make sure you are grasping fully what the speaker is trying to say.  Active listening involves techniques such as these:

  • Attending. Focusing closely on the speaker and maintaining eye contact.
  • Paraphrasing. Repeating what the speaker has said in your own words, giving him or her an opportunity to correct you if you have misunderstood: "You're saying that the procedure seems too complicated, is that it?"
  • Summarizing.  Offering an occasional summary of the main points made so far: "Let's see, you've mentioned three problems…"
  • Interpretation checking.  Stating your interpretation of what the speaker is conveying – both ideas and feelings – and asking if you're correct: "It sounds like you're upset that you didn't get earlier feedback on you handling of this project, is that right?"
  • Using clarifying questions.  Asking questions that attempt to make a point clearer or more explicit:  "Are your suggesting we change our procedures?"
  • Using probing questions.  Asking questions that encourage the other person to expand or elaborate on what was said: "I think I see the problem, but why do you think it happened?"
Probably the best advice I could anyone who wants to be a good listened is to 'Stop Talking".  It is difficult to listen and speak at the same time.  God gave us two ears and only one tongue, which is a gentle hint that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

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  1. Great top 10 list, Tim! Another helpful tip I've learned and suggest to others is to listen and figure out 1) What can you learn FROM this preson? and 2) What can you learn ABOUT this person? The first helps you improve your knowledge, especially since you're getting unfiltered information. The second helps you build your personal relationship.

  2. I think people underestimate #4. They say "my door is always open." But sometimes coming to that open door is still plenty intimidating, or simply not convenient. It takes more than having an open-door policy. It takes going to the point of activity and talking with people.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  3. Liz, Great advice on looking for value in conversation.

    Jamie, I agree. Some think they can just say something like "I have an open door policy" and it will be so. Must participate in everything we say by doing.