Effective communication is one of the keys to success, and when you’re good at it, people notice. Being an effective listener is critical in your role as a leader. Communication is so much more than just speaking to someone. It involves listening and also your tone and body language. I remember when I was a young leader learning about the 55% body language, 38% tonality and 7% being the words used. This was a revelation to me at the time, and whilst I still refer back to it today when coaching leaders, I also want to emphasize how much listening has to do with communication.
As a communicator each person has their own responsibility. When you speak YOU have the responsibility to speak clearly so the other person can understand. When the other person is speaking, YOU have the responsibility to listen. Most people think that strengthening communication skills involves developing persuasive speech and conversational skills, but what you may not realise is just how important effective listening can be.
Without an effective listener, none of your conversational skills would matter. This is because your points – no matter how clear – still wouldn’t be heard or understood.
So often we say something to someone and yet if they haven’t been listening, then how do we know that they even heard our intent? This is what causes friction.
When you solicit feedback you are asking them if they heard what you actually intended. It puts
Here are some techniques you can use to build your listening skills:
- Fight the urge to speak. Sometimes when you’re engaged in a conversation, you start to concentrate on what you’re going to say next. You may even be tempted to open your mouth before the other person is finished. This can derail the whole conversation, and often we don’t even hear the rest of what the other person is saying. Make the extra effort to keep your lips sealed until they’re through talking.
While they’re speaking, don’t worry about what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it. Instead, focus on the words and body language of the other person.
- Be an active listener. Change from being a passive listener by reflecting the speaker’s words. To really listen, you have to apply your mind and physical effort. This means giving them feedback that makes it clear you’re receiving the actual message as you have received.
- Look interested. Becoming distracted is a cue for the other person, consciously or subconsciously, to tune out. Your nonverbal communication skills are important while you’re listening. This means not being on your phone, or looking elsewhere. If you’re looking disinterested and uncaring, the person trying to communicate with you will likely pick up on these subtle hints. They may become flustered or less likely to share their thoughts.
- Engage with the person talking. Make eye contact, be relaxed, keep a pleasant expression and nod your head or smile when appropriate. Let your conversation partner know that their points are coming across to you.
- Repeat the highlights. One way to literally tell your conversation partner that they’re effectively communicating is to simply restate their points. You can repeat key phrases in an affirming tone. You can even give them a quick summary of what they just said in your own words. Avoid sharing your opinions when repeating their concepts or ideas. At this point, you simply want to communicate that you’ve completely understood their meaning.
- Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your conversation partner to elaborate on what they’re saying. Let them finish before you ask, and then keep them simple and specific. If you need further information, then ask for it. The important thing is that you understand what they’re trying to get across. Don’t start a multiple choice type questionnaire with them.
- Be patient. It’s also important to maintain patience, especially when working with people who may be shy or may not have the ability to communicate very well. If you’re not patient, you may end the conversation prematurely or scare off your conversation partner. Think of listening as a form of meditation. You have to clear your mind of everything else, so you can focus entirely on what the other person is saying.
- Follow your partner’s lead. Being an effective listener doesn’t mean that your only job is to listen. You can certainly add to the conversation, too. At the same time, you don’t want to overpower the conversation. Add your input when they ask for it or when they’ve finished their point.
Listening is hard work. It takes practice. You will become better and stronger the more you practice.
After you’ve had an important conversation, ask yourself what you remember from the conversation. Write down the details if necessary. Did you allow the other person to do most of the talking?
Being a good listener is not solely related to being a good leader, it will help you in every aspect of your life; including with family and friends, and of course with your colleagues and team at work. When you fight the urge to dominate conversations, you’ll be able to truly hear what people have to say!
Learning skills about the way you listen and the impact your skills have on others are all contributing to you leading from within. The inner leader who looks at themself first, then leads others to success.