As a true leader you should always ask yourself how to become a better listener. Because, the majority of employees consider their boss to be a poor listener. This is the result of a study performed by several organisations including the Business Executive Academy in Germany (Akademie für Führungskräfte der Wirtschaft).
This is tragic. It undermines employee motivation. Many misunderstandings throughout the daily routine could be avoided – if only managers were to take the time and simply listen.
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Why do managers have such a hard time becoming a better listener?
Managers want to be perceived as the engines of progress. Activity may frequently give them a false sense of being in control.
But listening is erroneously equated with passivity and submissiveness. Consequently, many managers focus more on talking than on listening. In the end, what the boss says is what goes. This is a big leadership mistake.
Bad decisions are made by those who do not listen
Many managers only listen briefly and are much too quick at forming an opinion. They suffer from “premature evaluation“. They make rushed evaluations of an employee’s statement, instead of absorbing the presentation, asking follow-up questions and comprehending the matter.
Are you one of these? Do you evaluate and react while your employee is still speaking? You are then actually no longer truly listening to them. You are already distracted by your own thoughts about the solution to the problem, and are not taking the time to understand the problem in detail. Misunderstanding and poor decisions are then already pre-programmed.
Getting to the bottom of things
When something goes wrong in your company, you should not only focus on facts and figures. You must to get to the bottom of things.
You will only do so if you understand the underlying emotions and motivations of the people involved. This requires that you ask and listen – but do so correctly.
Not an inquisition – but an inquiry instead
When listening actively, you are engaged with your conversation partner. You express empathy and address the other person with an open mind. It’s important to follow up on things that are not clear, and attempt to understand and address the other person’s feelings. You make an inward attempt to place yourself into the situation of the speaker.
It is important in this case to keep your opinion to yourself. Do not allow yourself to become agitated by allegations and criticism. Keep in mind:
Listening is not the same as agreeing!
3 tips how to ask questions the right way
Asking questions can be a great method helping your employees. But you need to use questions carefully. Otherwise they can be counterproductive.
1. Short questions in rapid succession
If you shoot short questions in rapid succession your employees may feel like being interrogated by a police officer. They feel pressed into a defensive position and feel like they are under attack. In this way, they become more and more afraid and threatened.
If a project went wrong and you talk to the responsible person, avoid asking short questions in rapid succession. One question is enough. Allow your employee to think and to find the right answer.
If you strive for becoming a better listener, don’t fire short questions in rapid succession.
2. Don’t trigger fear with your questions.
The shorter you formulate your question, the more pressing it is perceived by your employee. So, avoid this kind of questions. Instead of
“Why did you make the decision this way?”
You can ask:
“I can see that you were in a tough situation. What led you to make the decision this way?”
You see? Asking in that way does not trigger fear and defence.
3. Talk about the background of your question.
Sometimes it can help to introduce the background of your question with one or two sentences before asking the actual question. In the end you ask these questions in order to help or to understand – not to frighten, to demotivate or to frustrate.
Questions can be a terrific way to get others to think. But this will only work if your counterpart feels that you respect him. Therefore, never ever act like a threatening inquisitor!
Gaining trust and understanding
In order to learn how to become a better listener try to understand the emotions and motivations of difficult employees.
- Why does the employee behave this way?
- What is his perspective of things?
- What is his reality?
Avoid jumping to conclusions. Good listeners express appreciation and can then gain trust. They become aware of valuable information, are better able to assess situations and can therefore avoid misunderstandings.
6 important tips for how to become a better listener
- Don’t just go through the motions, but actually listen attentively.
Become completely engaged with your conversation partner.
- Without fail, good listeners also ask good questions. Ask for more information if you did not understand something. Repeat what you understood in your own words. Keep it brief when doing so.
- The ability to listen actively takes time to develop. Accept that you will feel somewhat clumsy and uncomfortable in your role in the beginning.
- Confidence is needed to approach others and to listen to them in an open and candid manner. Precisely in your role as the boss, you must have the ability to absorb unpleasant matters or criticism without having to justify yourself on the spot.
- Learn to appreciate pauses. Resist the urge to say something when a pause occurs. One of my bosses once told me: “You lead a conversation by saying little.”
- Are you one who tends to speak too much? Then you must accept the following:
Generally, your counterpart is much more interested in himself and his desires and problems than in your desires and problems. Therefore: Speak less – and speak less about yourself. Place your counterpart at the center of attention, regardless whether this is customer, a colleague or an employee.
The inspiring quote
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
Roy T. Bennett