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Listening as if you mean it: an important managerial skill

By Lynne Curry

It’s easy to give an excuse for not listening. You don’t have time; the speaker rambles or bores you. You already know what you’re about to hear.

It’s harder to admit you’re a poor listener—isn’t listening something we do all the time?

No.

The opposite proves true. Most of us find it hard to listen to someone who has something to say we don’t want to hear. We instinctively interrupt, tune out, or wait until the speaker finishes and then say what we wanted to say in the first place.

The result—we miss hearing information we later wish we’d heard; we fall easily into “yes…but” arguments in which neither you nor the other person comes to terms with each other’s viewpoint. We sacrifice opportunities to draw out the feelings and ideas of others so we can prevent future problems.

Often, the smartest people listen poorly. Because they think and move quickly in their jobs, they develop listening patterns in which they interrupt frequently, causing others to feel unheard and shut out.

The problem. You need listening skills if you want others to feel and believe you care about them. Listening skills are crucial when you work in customer relations, management, or deal with situations in which others disagree with you, your point of view, or your organization. Through listening, you build rapport, learn vital information, show respect, prevent misunderstanding, and de-escalate conflict.

If you want to improve your listening skills, start by giving the speaker your full attention. It’s difficult to listen fully when shuffling papers on your desk or thinking about what you want to say or shuffling papers on your desk or keeping one eye on your computer monitor or cellphone. Even if you can listen and sort paperwork, the other person may feel unheard. The cost? In your effort to do two things at once, you waste your and another person’s time because the speaker feels shortchanged.

In short, pay attention, even if you think you know what the other person may say, so you can have a conversation rather than an altering monologue.  To help you do this, paraphrase or summarize in your own words what the other person says. Paraphrasing means restating in your own words what you hear to make sure you’ve got it. Though, a simple technique, paraphrasing provides four benefits. It FORCES you to listen; clarifies what you’ve heard; shows the speaker you’ve heard and reduces misunderstanding.

When you paraphrase, most conversations improve. Without paraphrasing, two individuals in conflict move quickly into “yes…but” arguments. With paraphrasing, you stay on the other person’s wavelength and more easily reach the real issues of concern.

You can paraphrase more than the spoken word. If what the speaker leaves unsaid appears more important than what he said, or if you pick up on nonverbal clues, feel free to include them in your summary by saying comments such as, “It looks like I’ve caught you off guard.” By paraphrasing perceptions, conversations move to deeper and more honest levels.

Listening—a skill so easy it’s hard. A communication and conflict resolution tool so commonplace you do it without thinking and forget to do it without noticing.

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