By Jarret Jackson
I was raised in the suburbs of New York City, a region infamous for talking, not listening. To call it talking is perhaps misleading. Where I came from, the voice that was loudest and could speak the longest won — like a filibuster, because minds were rarely changed. In the words of Wharton professor and author of “Give and Take” Adam Grant, I was surrounded by takers: Everything is all about me.
Over the course of the last 20 years, that has changed, for me. I consistently look for ways to help others – personally and professionally. That has made me a better consultant, executive and friend. It also has allowed me to see the world through a different, more open and empathetic lens. I now focus on what the other person needs, before my own needs, as a way to build stronger relationships. I was able to do that when I stopped talking and started listening, actively.
What Is Active Listening?
Listening comes from a position of strength. Telling comes from a position of fear and control. We all listen (to varying degrees), but we rarely listen actively.
Active listening is an analytical exercise: It requires concentration on what is said – words, tone, body language, etc. – and in-the-moment processing of the implications. Ask yourself: What is someone communicating about his or her needs? What is the underlying problem?
To make active listening more effective, you can add complementary skillsets. Mirroring back what people have just said in your own words helps them feel heard and helps ensure your understanding is accurate. (That is called reflective listening). Allowing people to get their emotions out before talking tactically about the problem is another. (That is called empathetic listening).
Active listening requires you to be all ears. – GETTY IMAGES
But in today’s world of multitasking and constantly buzzing phones (not to mention a pandemic), focus is difficult. In “normal” times, fear of missing out (FOMO) makes it difficult to be present and pay complete attention to the person you are talking with – especially when it is not face-to-face. That is all the more reason active listening, not listening while doing, is essential to building better relationships with your team.
How Do You Become A Better Active Listener?
Learning to become an active listener requires you to slow down, have patience, and learn to ignore distractions (especially emails and texts).
Techniques like reflective listening can help. If you are regularly “re-capping” what has been said, you don’t allow yourself to miss parts of the conversation. You also show the other person that they have your full attention. That helps build trust, making them like you more and therefore more likely to work on what you both agree to. Their participation in the process gives them a voice that then encourages them to believe in what they are doing and therefore put more effort and energy toward it.
There is another technique that I find helpful: asking questions.
How Can Questions Help?
It may require a mindset shift for some, but using a Socratic, questioning approach isn’t about getting answers. It’s about opening up the conversation, getting others to talk more. That allows you to learn about your people so that you can find ways to challenge them, help them grow, and prepare them for their current and future roles. Asking broad, open-ended questions — “Why do you think that is?” or “What do you think you can do about it?” — similarly shows engagement and active listening, but also allows managers and leaders to begin coaching their teams on how to self-serve in addressing their own needs. Sometimes that need is to be heard; but sometimes it’s just a need to learn how to think or behave differently.
What Active Listening Will Do For You – And Your Career!
Active listening isn’t just about managing a team member or a conflict. It’s more than engaged problem-solving too. It’s about building your personal brand and your relationships. Are you the kind of leader or manager who I can come to for help, who will calm me down, hear my concerns, and help me find a path forward? Or are you someone I may be afraid of, hiding the truth and my mistakes, putting your business at risk? Do leaders reflect back in their communications the concerns and issues they hear about from staff? Or are they talking at them, making demands about what they want, without regard to staff needs?
These are the questions employees are asking. Do you have the skillset to actively listen and address them? If you do, you might just find your team or your organization is more adaptive and resilient than most.
Read the full article here.
This content was originally published by Forbes Magazine. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Forbes Magazine