Get An Edge with Active Listening

February 6, 2013

Active Listening
–Adapted from AMA Business Boot Camp–a compendium of some of the American Management Association's best advice.

Some managers talk too much. When you’re talking, that doesn’t mean you’re in control. Sometimes it means you’re out of control. Employ the skill of active listening to ferret out motivations and concerns, as well as information. Use the active listening techniques below to uncover what’s really being said.

  • Listen for connecting themes and ideas. By not focusing on every word, you can concentrate on key information.
  • Summarize periodically. People don’t always provide complete answers to questions at one time, so you have to fit the pieces together. To make certain that you’re accurately getting the full picture, stop occasionally. Summarize what the person is telling you. For example: “Let me make certain that I understand exactly what you did with this project. You recommended slipping it by two weeks to shave ten percent off the cost. Is this correct?”
  • Filter out distractions. Distractions can include other people coming into your office, the phone ringing, and focusing your thoughts elsewhere. By not listening actively, you’re likely to miss important information.
  • Screen out emotional influences. You may be in a bad mood when you walk into a meeting with someone, but you have to shake or it will mute your ability to listen actively.
  • Screen out personal biases. Put aside generational biases, such as an aversion to a style of clothing or accessories that seem “dated” or “outrageous.” Focus on the content of responses and behavior as much as possible. The opposite effect can occur, of course—a bias in favor of someone who is attractive or reminds you of a friend. Don’t get trapped by either one.
  • Listen with your body. Occasional nods or smiles in response to a person’s communication reinforce the fact that you have an interest in what is being said. Keep your body language open, which suggests you want the person to speak. For example, put laptops, phones, and other devices away.

Active listening helps make you a powerful and influential communicator.

Put all the guidelines to work in your conversations as much as you can. Your direct reports will feel like talking with you has gone to a whole new level, and they will be a lot more forthcoming about what they know.

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About The Author

Edward T. Reilly is President and CEO of the American Management Association (AMA). AMA is the world’s leading not-for-profit, membership-based management development, research and publishing organization. Each year, AMA directly interacts with over 100,000 managers and executives in the United States and around the world, through its renowned management education seminar programs and conferences. It publishes many newsletters, research papers and a quarterly management journal. Through its publishing arm, AMACOM, it publishes over 80 books per year.

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