Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Leadership

How To Really Listen

Really good listeners are a rare workplace (and everyplace) commodity. Because of its rarity, the skill of excellent listening sends a powerful message. It says, “You are important. Your ideas are valuable. You and what you think matter to me.” Team members “hearing” such a message from their leader feel empowered to do their jobs, are willing to be open and honest, and feel free to offer ideas and suggestions.

You may ask, “What does it take to be an excellent listener? Is it simply sitting quietly while other people talk?”

Not really. As you know from experience, it is possible to look someone in the eyes and sit quietly while that person talks, while planning what you will say next or mentally making your grocery list.

Effective listening is an active process. It involves several key components.

Essentials of Effective Listening

1. Decide to really listen. Set aside preconceived ideas about a person, and make a choice to really try to hear what the person is trying to communicate with you.

2. Listen for feelings as well as facts. In order for a person to really feel understood, you have to be successful in comprehending both the facts and the emotional content of their message.

3. Make eye contact. Even though you may be technically able to listen without looking at the person who is speaking, he or she won’t feel that you’re listening. Give the person your full attention, and demonstrate that by maintaining good eye contact.

4. Use attentive body language. Turn toward the person, with open and relaxed body posture. If you are seated, you may learn forward toward the speaker. Let your facial expression convey interest and concern.

5. Ask open-ended questions. Rather than asking questions that require only yes-no or one-word answers, pose questions that invite the person to elaborate. This gives you more complete information and sends the “I’m interested” message to the other person.

6. Paraphrase. Check to see if you understood correctly by saying back in your own words what you understood the person to say.

7. Reflect feelings. Show that you are attempting to understand the emotions the person is experiencing by verbally “mirroring” them. For example, you might say, “It sounds like that really ticked you off,” or “Really was fun for you, huh?”.

8. Use verbal and nonverbal encouragers. You can encourage the person to continue to express thoughts and ideas by little verbalizations like, “I see” or “Oh” or “Mmm.” Head nods encourage the person nonverbally.

Listening is critical in everyday one-on-one interactions as well as team meetings. Organizational leaders as well as team members make a valuable contribution to both performance and morale when they listen with their ears, their eyes, and their hearts.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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