Listening & Leadership

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Statistics tell us that people will forget up to 95 percent of what they are told within three to seven days. It’s important to make an impact with the 5 percent that people do remember. On the other side of the coin, communication experts have found that a key method for improving leadership perception is to create better listening skills. Here are a few simple leadership listening techniques that can increase your effectiveness immediately when incorporated into your daily interactions.

It is important to remember that when you are listening, you are in a two-way conversation. Your part in that conversation may be primarily silent, but in order for your conventional partner to feel “heard,” they must also feel that you are committing your energy to the listening process. The listening skills suggested below will help you enhance that perception. The true desire to listen, however, comes from within. Like a positive message that is not delivered from the heart, listening “behaviors” displayed without the heartfelt commitment to understand your speaker will be seen as phony and dishonest.

Maintain relaxed eye contact with the other person. A good ratio to maintain is 50 percent on your partner, 50 percent away.

Use a variety of “filler” comments such as “I see,” “OK” or “I understand.”

Use reflective listening techniques to draw the other person out or when responding to critical feedback so you don’t seem defensive. A way to say this is to use the PPP approach: paraphrase, probe and present options. To do so:

  • Listen to what s/he is saying.
  • Reflect back by saying something like, “I hear you saying __________, is that accurate?”
  •  Continue to revise until the person feels you understand them (i.e., “So you’re saying _________, is that correct?”).
  • To present options, present two or three possibilities for consideration, such as, “Well, what if we tried to … ”

Good listening is like playing a friendly game of volleyball – you want the ball to go over the net. Allow the conventional volley to continue as long as possible. Avoid quick, deadend responses that shut down or close off dialogue. To do so, use gentle prompts or open-ended questions to encourage your speaker to share their input. Such prompts or questions might include, “Tell me more about … ” or “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” Stretch the response out longer than you do in normal conversation.

Increase facial expression – nod, smile with understanding, raise brow if you question something, furrow the brow or squint your eyes slightly only to show concern or empathy, etc. and make sure the voice tone you use matches your mood.

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Avoid giving a quick verbal brushoff response such as, “Sure. Now about that __________.” If you are a fast processor or high-energy person who can jump into your response so quickly that you often interrupt, take a silent count to three when you feel the impulse to speak. This should allow you enough of a pause to be certain that your speaker is finished.

Take some extra time to listen, absorb and respond to what people are telling you. A few minutes invested here can have a major payoff later since you will appear far more engaged as a listener.

Jodi Standke

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