When I ask people to talk about the best boss they ever had, they always mention one quality—listening. The best leaders are good listeners. Our research shows that listening is a critical skill for developing people, building trust, and creating a meaningful connection. But be careful—we’ve also found that it’s common for direct reports to score their managers lower in listening skills than the managers score themselves. I’ve said many times that God gave us two ears and one mouth because he wanted us to listen more than we talk. Let me explain some of the fundamentals of effective listening in case you may want to sharpen your skills.
Pay Attention to Nonverbal Behaviors. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears—watch a person’s facial, eye, and body movements in addition to the tone of their voice. Be aware of clues that their silent behaviors provide while at the same time being sensitive to your own nonverbal signals. For example: are you encouraging someone to continue with a conversation, or silently telling them to stop?
Ask Questions. This is not about interrogation or control. Use well thought out questions to seek information, opinions, or ideas that will help you understand the person while helping them feel heard. The best leaders ask open-ended questions to encourage communication, clarifying questions to check for understanding, and prompting questions to encourage deeper thinking.
Reflect Feelings. Acknowledge any emotions being expressed by the person and share your understanding by restating the person’s feelings back to them in a nonjudgmental way. This will help demonstrate that you not only understand their message but also empathize with their feelings.
Paraphrase. Restate in your own words what was said to demonstrate that you heard what the speaker was saying. Paraphrasing is useful to confirm that you understand what your team member was saying.
Summarize. State in a nutshell what was said over the entire conversation. The exact words are not as important as clearly capturing the main points and sequence of what was said. This is where you want to reflect the speaker’s conclusion back to them to indicate that you understand.
As you can see, effective listening is about focusing on what the other person is saying and then demonstrating that you understand and value their thoughts. Developing listening skills takes an investment of time but is the best way to build trusting relationships with the people you lead. Using these skills should get you off to a good start.