10 Tips on How to Become a Better Listener

I´ll always remember the way an employee described to me her boss´s management style. "It was one of two things," she said. "Either I got a lecture or I got the silent treatment."

I''ll always remember the way an employee described to me her boss''s management style. "It was one of two things," she said. "Either I got a lecture or I got the silent treatment."

Too often managers and supervisors employ only one-way communication with their employees. They become so concerned with their own agenda and the paper that needs to be processed (e.g., preparing and signing Performance Review forms) that they ignore the person sitting right across the desk from them! They fail to master the art of listening and in turn, fail to tap into the most valuable resource within their company--the employees themselves!

Good listening skills are just that--skills! And they take time to master. But here''s a crash course to help you get started.

1. Find areas of common interest.

What worthwhile ideas can I use? How can they improve our working relationship?

2. Judge content, not delivery.

Don''t let someone''s personal style detract from what they''re telling you. A good listener will separate what is being said from how it is said.

3. Withhold evaluation.

Let the employee finish speaking before you interject - no matter how tempting. Plain old courtesy! Poor listeners are preoccupied with thoughts of how to refute the other person''s ideas, present contrary information, ask embarrassing questions, etc. Subsequent ideas go unheard.

4. Focus on central ideas.

Try to isolate the most important ideas within the employee''s talk. Good listeners discriminate between fact and example, illustration and idea, and argument and support evidence.

5. Stay flexible.

Resist the temptation to control the situation. Remember, this is a two-way "democratic" process. It is the employee''s turn. By trying to inject order into a rambling message, you may end up steering the employee away from some very crucial thoughts.

6. Show attention.

Establish eye contact and show facial interest. More than anything else, this tells the employee you are receptive to what he/she is saying.

7. Overcome distractions.

Good listeners control distracting sights and sounds (such as open doors and windows) and block out distractions that can''t be removed.

8. Know you own biases.

Be aware of your psychological "deaf spots," i.e., personal prejudices, values, etc., that can lead you to lose the employee''s message altogether.

9. Listen critically.

Analyze the employee''s message. Is what is being said accurate? Distorted? Objective? Up-to-date? Listen between the lines to help you judge the intent and content of what is being said.

10. Take inventory.

Generally, we think about four times faster than we talk! Thus, poor listeners can quickly become impatient; good listeners use this lag time to mentally summarize what has been said and where the employee seems to be going.

by Lloyd M. Field Ph.D.
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