Techniques to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

December 30, 2014

It is well known that there are two parts of a conversation: talking and listening. However, many people are unaware of the two types of listening: active and passive. The type of listening you exhibit in a conversation can determine how well you understand what the other person is saying, as well as your relationship with them. Active listening is the more favorable of the two, as it facilitates a deeper conversation with more details and interaction.

What exactly is active listening? Active listening is the patience to listen more and talk less. It is the ability to listen to someone else even when you don’t agree with them. An active listener asks questions that create an engaging conversation. While a passive listener might hear what you are saying, they do not contribute anything of value to enhance everyone’s understanding of the topic at hand. Meanwhile, a non-listener dominates the conversation and does not allow for a meaningful dialogue to take place.

What prevents managers from talking less and listening more to their employees?

There are many answers to this question, but there are several common causes that characterize many managers. Talking more could be as innocuous as simply being a habit, as they are used to being asked to explain responsibilities and delegating tasks. This usually involves being more vocal than responsive. Another possibility is that the manager hasn’t properly assessed their employees and their abilities and feels the need to explain the minutiae of every responsibility. The manager could also therefore have a lack of trust in their employee, which is a sign of larger problems. Or, it could also simply be that they like to hear themselves talk!

While this is human, it is something you should consider bringing up the next time you feel the conversation is one-sided.

As a manager, what are you saying that you could be asking instead?

Are you talking technical because you miss doing the work?  Are you leading the conversation because the work isn’t getting done? What is most effective is for managers to realize: The less we talk, and the more we ask questions and listen instead, the easier our job becomes. Instead of explaining how something should be done, or offering your opinion unsolicited, ask your employee what they think. You get more commitment from an employee when they come up with the idea, rather than you telling them.

How can you listen to someone when you don’t agree with them?

Though it may seem obvious, you must first acknowledge to yourself that you don’t agree with them. Then, you need to realize that listening doesn’t mean agreeing. It just means to hear and process what they are saying. Though an agreement may not take place, it is essential to at least listen to what the other party says.

How can an agreement be met between two people if they won’t even listen to each other?

It’s not enough to agree to disagree. Active listening can facilitate more agreements by forcing each party to reevaluate their position and consider the alternatives. Though you may not always agree, you now have a more comprehensive view of the issue. The proof of active listening is when you can agree to disagree and also state the other opinion as if it were your own. Beware, though, doing this is much easier said than done.

How much more effective would we be as managers if we developed our active listening skills?

When managers understand their employees’ point of view, even when they disagree with them, they create a more positive channel for future discussion. The employee may be more satisfied because their voice, their opinion, and their ideas have been heard. Everyone needs to be allowed to express their thoughts, regardless of their job status. They are also more likely to actively listen to what you have to say. Your ideas will not be as readily dismissed if you create an open dialogue. Finally, the opportunity for alignment increases, as the discussion gravitates towards a more centralized solution. This way, both you and your employee are more satisfied with the end result. How effective are your active listening skills? Think of someone in your life, business or personal, with whom you disagreed. Can you explain their side of the discussion?

Remember, active listening doesn’t always mean agreeing with what you heard. It’s about listening, asking questions, and listening some more.

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Active listening is only one side of the conversation. Improve your business communication skills with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

Howard Miller teaches and coaches skills to new & seasoned managers, entrepreneurs and executives. He is on the faculty of AMA and teaches courses in the management curriculum. Howard also works with other organizations, such as Effective Training Associates and Compsych, teaching leadership, communication and management courses. He does executive and business coaching with the Ken Blanchard organization. Howard is the author of two books; The Manager Trap: 13 ½ Pitfalls to Avoid and You’re Full of Shift. Howard has a Bachelor of Science, Cum Laude, from the State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY, a Certificate in Training and Human Resource Development from University of California, Berkeley, and graduated from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) in San Rafael, California.

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    […] to know the people closest to your customers or product and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes they may not know how valuable their observations can be. Help them learn how to […]

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