Communication is one of the toughest subjects to deal with in the workplace. There are many ways in which we can sabotage the conversation, even if we don’t intend to. Most of us are not taught how to do it effectively, and we end up with uncomfortable, incoherent and ineffective dialogues that harm relationships and destroy business.
The one critical skill that is rarely taught, and not many people know how to do effectively, is the art of listening. Listening builds trust and loyalty.
Leaders who listen are held in higher esteem than those who don’t. Employees or team members feel seen and heard, and are more likely to trust and respect the individual who listens to them, thus increasing loyalty, productivity, and collaboration.
To be listened to means another person is totally with you, leaning in, and interested in what you have to say. They are eager to empathize and make you feel understood. When you are with a good listener you feel safer, and more secure, and you open up to trust them more.
Listening is not something we’re naturally good at. My kids would try to get my attention when I was busy. “Mom?” they would say, several times, until they cottoned onto the fact that if they said “Jacqueline,” I would respond immediately. I heard them. In everyday listening, we space out. We hear the words but we’re not responding to them clearly.
The truth is, those who have developed the art of listening are far more adept at navigating the increasingly diverse and multi-generational workplace. As a good listener, you are generally considered more thoughtful and compassionate. Good listeners are the people who make you feel you matter. They may disagree with you, but they have given you the time to express yourself, and given some thought to what you said.
Too many times people feel under-appreciated because their boss never takes the time to check in and see how they are feeling, or if they need something. People want to feel cared for, and when they are listened to with intent, it increases their well being during challenging times.
There are several levels to listening.
- I’m listening to you, but the focus is on what you said, and what I’m going to say next. There is also a tendency to jump to conclusions before all the information is present and that can end in judgment or an opinion that wasn’t asked for.
- I’m listening to you, and want to be sure I hear everything you are saying so I can clarify and give you the right response that is informed and give you what you need.
- I’m listening to you, and I’m also listening to what you’re not saying so I can give you deeper insight into the situation.
Listening is not just what you’re hearing, and how you’re engaging in the conversation, but how you are present to the listener.
Physical listening is leaning in, making eye contact, using hand gestures, and when appropriate, using touch to show you care.
As a leader you are being watched. Every move, every gesture makes an impression on others. If they feel like you’re distracted, cold or abrupt, you will lose their trust. If you are dismissive, rude or patronizing, they will take their loyalty elsewhere.
It’s the small details that make or break a situation. Don’t interrupt, finish sentences, or blurt out ideas before the speaker has finished speaking. With every interruption comes the opportunity to disengage, to switch off and disconnect from the main event. People respect people who listen because they know how hard it is to listen carefully, and considerately. Stay focused on what someone is saying and quiet the part of your brain that wants to speed things up, clarify or is bored by the conversation. We have all been there, and it’s hard to keep our mouths shut!
Listening is about staying in the moment. It is about remaining present to the speaker, and to allowing the space for real communication to occur. Listening is not future-oriented, even if your thoughts are.
Some statistics you may want to ponder:
- 85% of what we know we have learned by listening. That’s why audio books are so popular.
- Humans generally only remember 25-50% of what we hear. Which means we miss an awful lot of information.
- In a typical business day we spend 45% of our time listening, 30% talking, 16% reading, and 9% writing. Learn how to listen better.
- Less than 2% of all professionals have had formal education or learning to understand and improve listening skills and techniques.
Guidelines to Build Trust
- Increase your awareness of others to open meaningful dialogue.
- Create a listening space where there are no distractions that get in the way of listening with intent.
- Eliminate interruptions. Be fully present to the individual you are speaking to.
- Establish rapport by increasing you empathy for the individual.
- Set aside assumptions and analysis. Stay out of judgment or blame until you hear all the facts.
- Monitor your body language. Are you relaxed and open.
- Listen for what’s not said. Ask clarifying questions and repeat back to the listener so he or she understands what was said.
- Ask for feedback. You may think you’re doing a good job of listening, but you won’t know unless you ask.
Learn how to listen, and you will lead more effectively by showing you are committed to the growth of the individual you are speaking with.
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