As a leader, conversations tend to take place at proportionally higher frequencies than staff in other roles. Whether in the form of a meeting or an impromptu dialogue, it’s essential to really “hear” the speaker to (a) deepen your pulse on the organization, and (b) to reiterate the value you believe the speaker brings. Follow these practical suggestions to enhance your listening skills:
- Make the conscious decision to listen: The first step towards excellent listening involves setting the stage. Therefore, remove distractions, avoid scanning your environment while someone is speaking, and avoid the temptation to multitask.
- Reschedule if needed: If someone wants to speak while you are preoccupied with another task, let them know that you need to postpone the conversation until another time. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s a given that we’re all busy, so such a request should come as no surprise. Your listening will be sharp and focused.
- Pay extra-close attention to those you know well: Surprisingly, we tend to tune out those we speak to often, because we have historical data embedded in our memory about their thoughts and feelings about issues, projects, and values. Each conversation is a fresh one, so make sure you give the speaker your undivided attention.
- Ask the right follow-up questions: A great follow-up question is one that is closely related to the topic at hand because it demonstrates that you are interested in the discussion. Furthermore, ensure that the question is open-ended, which subconsciously communicates your interest to learn more about the topic. For instance, you could say, “Can you tell me more?”
- End conversations that extend beyond your ability to be attentive: Each conversation eventually reaches a tipping point – if continued long enough – where you are no longer able to give the speaker your full attention. Once you notice your mind wandering, let the speaker know you will need to reschedule the remainder of the conversation for a later date.