Good managers are almost always excellent listeners. They master the art of “active listening.”
Active listening is not:
- Simply being quiet while the speaker talks
- Deciding how you’re going to respond when it’s your turn
- Looking for a flaw in their message
Active listening has four parts:
- Listening to really understand what’s being said
- Paraphrasing what you’ve heard (by putting their words into your words
- Describing how they appear to be feeling about what they’re talking about
- Checking to see if you’ve got it right.
George comes to you one day, and says…
“The oleo ophelia let kalkdh ieht woietoihsa ie thieia ihahagle!”
As an active listener, you would respond with something like this:
“George, it sounds like you think there are som e inequities in the new scheduling process. Looks like you’re pretty upset with it and it’s made you angry. Is that about right?”
If George says, “Yes, that’s it exactly,” you listened very well. If George says, “Nope, what I’m saying is that it’s really hard to adapt to the new scheduling process on top of all the other changes going on!” you could try it again:
“George, it sounds like you’re struggling with all the changes we’re going through, and the new scheduling process may be the straw that is breaking your back. You appear to be really frustrated. Have I got it this time?”
George says, “Yep!”
At this point, you have three valuable things:
- An employee who feels heard – which is what most employees say is one of the most important characteristics they want from their manager
- Clarity about the issue at hand, and
- A starting point for good problem-solving or conflict resolution.
Active listening is a skill, and we can all get better at it with practice. It takes consciously pausing when someone speaks, focusing on them (and not your response), and a willingness to get it wrong occasionally. It’s worth devoting some reflection on your active listening skills, and, if needed, spending some time learning to do it better.