How To Listen Your Way To Success

How To Listen Your Way To Success

How many conversations have you had with your boss, your team and your employees that were wasted opportunities? At some point did you delude yourself into thinking that you were the do-all, end-all and be-all of the business world? When was the last time that you really, seriously, honestly listened? Most of us would really like to think that we’re avid listeners. We would love to believe that we’re empathetic, sensible, helpful and the like. But the truth is that many of us are too busy to actually listen to a real and honest conversation.

When Ben from accounting gave you your last update in your office — one that he had really spent time preparing for — did you listen? Probably not. Ben may have spent a great deal of his off time crafting a presentation, but were you too busy thinking about the upcoming merger to actually listen to the information he prepared? You’ll have to change your ways or you’ll lose a very competent employee, and you’ll have to spend money, time and effort to replace him. Employees lose patience quickly when their supervisor or manager can’t be bothered to actually listen. Yes, you’re busy and overworked, but so are they!

As Mark Goulston says in his book Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, “People have their own needs, desires and agendas. They have secrets they’re hiding from you. And they’re stressed, busy and often feeling like they’re in over their heads. To cope with their stress and insecurity, they throw up mental barricades that make it difficult to reach them even if they share your goals, and nearly impossible if they’re hostile.”

How’s your team going to shine when they all feel as if you routinely dismiss their thoughts and needs? If you can’t or won’t spend the time to sincerely listen to your individual employees, your team is going to lose focus fast. When meeting with your employees, remember to do the following:

Ask questions. So many people in the business world today issue ideas, orders and assignments. When was the last time you took the time to actually ask a pertinent question of your specialists? You hired them for a reason! Listen to what they have to say.

Pause. Remember the acronym W.A.I.T., which stands for “Why am I talking?” As the old adage goes, there’s a reason why you have one mouth and two ears. Consciously stop and think before you start talking or continue.

Do your very best to not interrupt. Don’t talk when one of your team members is speaking and trying to make a point. Reiterate what the other person has stated. Don’t act like a tape recorder and repeat it word for word. Show that you’ve listened, and internalized the information. Confirm the idea by taking the time to tell the person what you’ve heard to make sure you’re both on the same page and actually understanding each other.

Find common ground. Plan to make an important conversation a cooperative conversation. What do you have in common with the other person in the room? How can you meet on common ground?

Don’t see conversation as a competition. In a conversational competition, nobody wins. If you’re only listening for a pause in the conversation so you can break in and express your opinion, you aren’t listening. You’re only pausing between lecturing your opinions or truths. Do your best to create a safe environment for the speaker. Your job is to listen, not to argue and not to judge. No one should be a “winner” or a “loser.” That isn’t the way to a resolution. A productive conversation isn’t a debate.

Don’t jump in and try to solve the problem. On that same note, a useful conversation should be full of give and take. Allow the speaker to truly specify what the issue is before you jump to conclusions.

Ensure that all distractions are put away. No cell phones, no computer screens and no tablets should be active or present. This is a time for both parties to be fully present.

Pay attention to body language. No matter the words that are being used, they may contradict the body language that’s being communicated by your subject. If you suspect the words that are being spoken contradict the body posture, your colleague may be miscommunicating to you by accident or on purpose.

In Nixaly Leonardo’s book Active Listening Techniques: 30 Practical Tools to Hone your Communication Skills, she explains “Active listening is a powerful skill. It can not only help you get your message across, but it can also help others feel connected to you and positively influence your relationships, self-esteem and career success. If you practice it consistently, the people around you will feel heard, understood, cared for and respected.” The most important thing to remember when you’re trying to communicate with your colleagues and your team is to recognize that the communication skills must be taught and passed down by leadership, and that’s one of your main jobs. Lead with active listening and others will likely follow suit.

This article has previously been featured on  Forbes.