Updated: Dec 27, 2019
People are inspired when they feel heard and understood. One of the most important ways leaders can demonstrate this to actively listen to what people have to say.
To create a culture of engagement, collaboration and high performance, leaders must first model active listening and facilitate dialogue, then establish it as an expectation throughout their entire organisation.
I have found that when people are engaged in conversations, most of the time they are not listening actively to understand the other person’s point of view. Instead, they are preoccupied with their own thoughts and feelings, and when opinions differ, they are usually preparing their counterargument.
Research by communications expert Edgar Dale suggests that we retain between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear in a conversation. So, after that last meeting you had with your staff, they may have missed most of the details that was discussed.
The seven steps to becoming a better listener:
1. Seek First to Understand
Approach each dialogue with an aim to understand and learn something from the other person
Look at the speaker directly and give them your undivided attention.
Suppress the urge to think about what you’re going to say next.
Be mindful not to let your personal filters (assumptions, judgements, and beliefs) distort what you’re hearing.
Assume positive intent.
2. Observe Nonverbal Cues
In addition to what is being said, the real message is often non-verbal or emotional.
"Listen" to the speaker's body language.
If their words are not consistent with their nonverbal cues, and only when you have enough rapport, state your observation and ask for their feedback.
3. Keep the Conversation Flowing
The speaker will usually feel heard when you reflect on what is being said.
Use open-ended questions to open and guide the conversation.
Explore by asking “What other alternatives did you consider?” or "How do you see this working…”.
Clarify by asking "What do you mean when you say...".
Paraphrase by asking "What I'm hearing is..." and "Sounds like you are saying...".
Avoid close-ended questions that have “yes” or “no” answers.
4. Drill Down into the Details
The level of detail would depend on the purpose of the discussion and the other person’s thinking style.
Ask specific questions that make the conversation more concrete.
Ask questions like "Tell me more about...", or "How would this work?"
5. ‘Show’ That You're Listening
Use your own body language and gestures to show that you are engaged.
Have an open posture that shows you are interested.
6. Encourage with Positive Feedback
If the speaker has trouble expressing a point or lacks confidence, provide positive feedback as an encouragement.
Smile and use other facial expressions appropriately.
Use verbal comments like “yes” and "uh huh."
7. Be Intentional with your Responses
Remember that the way you respond, with both your words and nonverbals, is an important part of the dialogue.
Be candid, open and honest in your response.
Keep an open mind – you don’t have to always agree.
Maintain respect for the other person’s point of view even if you disagree with it.
Assert your opinions respectfully.
Treat the other person in a way that you would want to be treated.
Being able to actively listen and effectively communicate helped me achieving and maintain high levels of engagement and performance for many years.
Whenever I have put these techniques to use at work or my personal life, results have been outstanding for all involved.
I've used these strategies while managing staff to deliver business critical changes. At home, I taught these techniques to my partner and kids to manage the pressing demands and pressures of leading a large family with teenage children.
How will these steps help encourage dialogue in your business or with your family?
If you are interested in professional development for yourself or your staff, get in touch with me to discuss your training and coaching needs.