At a recent Problem Solving and Decision Making Workshop, while discussing and brainstorming about the challenges leaders face in finding solutions, one point that came out strongly was that of a lack of listening skills in this situation. Surprisingly, many of the leaders present requested that at some point in the workshop, time must be allocated for exercise and practice in listening skills. The exercise and practice went well with good participation.
The good news is that just like anything else, we can get better at listening with effort and practice. I like to share with you some advice from an article by Michael Hoppe, a faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership, who has worked with hundreds of leaders throughout his career. He has streamlined his advice for better listening into six helpful steps:
1. Pay attention: Set aside your iPad and maintain steady eye contact. Smile or nod to show you’re fully present. Every time you sneak a peek at a text, you risk killing the conversation. If you’re having a virtual exchange, read e-mails the whole way through at least twice to make sure you’re really getting the message.
2. Suspend judgment. Hold back your own criticisms and the need to show you’re right. Let others explain how they view a situation. You don’t need to agree; just show some empathy.
3. Reflect. In person or on email, as the conversation proceeds, occasionally recap others’ points to make sure you’re really hearing them. Often it turns out that you missed something important.
4. Clarify. When you do speak, ask open-ended questions that encourage people to share more. For example: “What are your thoughts about how we might change our strategy to increase sales in this economy?”
5. Summarize. Briefly restate core themes raised by the person you’re talking with. You’re not agreeing or disagreeing; you’re simply closing the loop.
6. Share. Once you know where that person stands, introduce your own ideas and suggestions. That’s how good conversations get even better.
Make a commitment to practice these six steps in at least one conversation each day, whether it’s in person, on the phone or online. Before long, your work colleagues won’t be the only ones who are grateful. Our family members and friends have probably been waiting patiently for us to become better listeners, too.