"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen."
We’ve all been there. A colleague fills you in on a problem while you zone out worrying about your own pile of work. Or you ask a coworker about their project when you’re really waiting for them to finish so you can launch into your own updates.
Listening actively is a skill and it doesn’t get easier the higher you rise in leadership and the less bandwidth you have to give someone your full attention. It’s worthwhile to invest the effort because being a good listener is the key to genuine relationships and creative solutions.
Start crafting your listening skills now, and become a communicator who understands what the people around you are saying – not just what you want to hear or think you hear.
1. Redirect your focus
Shift from what is going on inside your own head onto the needs of the speaker. Show that you’re listening by using body language like nodding and maintaining eye contact, don’t interrupt and wait to give your opinion.
2. Open communication
Check your own judgment and biases so you can listen openly to what the speaker is trying to tell you.
3. Show understanding
Show that you’re listening by using brief affirmations like “So what you’re saying is” and “Let me repeat that.” If they sound upset, empathize with them by saying something like “Talk to me about what’s going on” or “You sound upset.”
4. Open-ended and specific questions
Ask open-ended questions like “What changes would you like to see?” to give the speaker room to elaborate. Ask specific questions like “When was the due date?” to gain more clarity.
5. You don’t have to agree to listen
People often worry that actively listening means they’re agreeing with what the speaker is saying. In reality, active listening carves out the space to show that you have understood and heard them. You can still disagree respectfully.
So listen with intent. Repeat back what you hear to show that what the speaker is saying resonates. Give your stakeholders a reason to trust your feedback because you’re taking the time to let them talk about their problem.