Two Tips to Being a Better Listener


Active listening is an important managerial skill.
Active listening is an important managerial skill.

Listening, really listening is probably the weakest skill for many managers. HR managers are no exception. Quite often while listening we are already formulating what our response is going to be and thus we do not hear the rest of what is said. Here are two tips that will make you a better listener.
Listening is as important as speaking
Seth Godin, in his post entitled How to Listen, basically says that the listener has as heavy an obligation in an interaction as does the speaker. After all, no idea is communicated if the person being spoken to is not listening. Listening is hard work and needs to be practiced. So here are two things that will make you a better listener.
Be an active listener
Show people you are actually listening. As Seth Godin says “Pay back the person who’s speaking with enthusiasm.” This means your expression, your questions, your nodding, and your posture. We all know how irritating it is to talk to someone, or try to talk to someone, who is not looking at you and not responding to what you are saying. Spouses experience this all the time. But so do employees talking to their managers.
Play back what you hear
One of the best ways to confirm to someone that you listened to them is to feedback to them what you heard. It does not need to be a “tape recording” of what they said; it can be your version. In fact it should be your version so that you can demonstrate that you actually understood them. Godin says “Don’t ask questions as much as make statements, building on what you just heard but making it your own. Take what you heard and make it the foundation for what you are trying on as your next idea.”
Bonus tip
If you disagree with what the person is saying don’t jump in to immediately shoot the idea down. Wait until they are done speaking and think for a moment on EVERYTHING they said. If after that you still disagree then explain why. Focus on the idea and not the person.
Godin had a great closing remark that I think all managers should apply to their dealings with their employees. He said “The best way to honor someone who has said something smart and useful is to say something back that is smart and useful. The other way to honor them is to go do something with what you learned.” This promotes the useful interchange and exchange of ideas. Your employees, and for that matter your spouses, children and friends, will be much more likely to talk you and feel valued as a result.

3 thoughts on “Two Tips to Being a Better Listener”

  1. Smart, well-written advice. Active listening is also a VERY important part of effective interviewing skills. If we’re not carefully and fully listening to the candidate, we risk hearing what we WANT to hear, instead of what is truly being conveyed. SL

  2. Experienced managers know how to separate emotions from the work at hand when dealing with employees. Rather than dwelling on an employee’s negative personality traits, smart managers focus on tasks, projects and results. They don’t allow their personal feelings to interfere, and they treat everyone the same way.

  3. I just spent the week with three of my Proteus colleagues, teaching management and leadership skills to a group of 60 smart, dedicated professional women through a program called Rising Leaders . One of the core management skills we taught them (this was the group’s choice) was listening. I was thrilled they chose this skill. I dedicated the entire first chapter of Growing Great Employees to listening; I believe it’s foundational to success for both managers and leaders.

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