Undetected, unmanaged resistance can derail the best-planned change. Listening to employees and colleagues is one of your strongest weapons. Given the opportunity, people will tell you everything you need to know
So what are some of the key behaviours that make a good listener?
The old adage ‘silence is golden’ is so true. The other person should talk 80% of the time. For many of us, silence feels like not participating. However silence is giving the other person permission to speak, acknowledging and appreciating their input. Silence indicates that you are paying attention.
Use the 20% of your time to ask questions and not pass opinion. It is tempting to weigh in and correct the person who is speaking because you want to ‘put them right’. However this conversation is not about solving the problem – its about finding out what the problem is.
There may be times during the conversation that you have to ask questions in order to move the conversation along. However do this carefully and respectfully so that you don’t inhibit the other person sharing information that will ultimately allow you to make informed decisions.
There is always the temptation to fill silence with your own thoughts and opinions but resist it. The silence is probably not as long as you feel it is. Give the other person time to think and continue the conversation. If you interrupt, you will move the conversation on and may miss vital information.
When you do have to ask questions, wherever possible ask open-ended questions to encourage longer, more in-depth responses.
Summarise what the person has said : “Let me check that I understand what you are saying……”. This will avoid any misunderstanding but also tells the other person that you are really listening
It has been said that 75% of all communication is non-verbal. Watch for signs communicating how the other person is feeling. This includes gestures, posture, facial expressions and eye movement. For example, lack of eye contact can indicate boredom or unwillingness to share.
Also watch your own body language. Sitting up straight with your arms folded indicates a formal conversation and perhaps a judgmental one. This will not encourage the other person to feel relaxed and share their thoughts. Nod your head and make eye contact to show interest in what they are saying.
Leave the Judgment at the Door
The conversation is not about judging the other person or trying to change their opinions by expressing yours. You may not agree with the other person, but their perception is their reality. Your role is to uncover all of that ‘reality’ so that any resistance to change can be managed outside of the conversation.
You need to be impartial. Don’t be annoyed by the other persons mannerisms or conversational skills. Some people may pace the room talking loudly while others sit quietly . You need to focus on what is being said, not how it is being said.
Try and look at things from the other person’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes. Get rid of any preconceived ideas and have an open-mind.
William Bridges (‘The Three Questions’ (2009)) talks about how the best way to get people through transition (i.e. change) is to affirm their experience and help them to deal with it. It is not a question of agreeing with people or being nice to them. It’s simply understanding how the world looks to them and using that as the starting point. “When you do that, you bring issues out on the table, build trust and understanding, and give people the tools they need to move forward through a difficult time.”.
Make sure the environment in which you have having the conversation is conducive to listening. Remove distractions such as a busy office with all its distractions. Get out from behind the desk, turn off your mobile and create a relaxed ‘fire-side’ environment.
If possible, schedule the conversation at a time when the other person is not responding to a deadline or under some other sort of pressure. You want them to be fully in the conversation and not somewhere else. The same applies to you! You cannot actively listen if you are thinking about the next meeting, project deadline or beating the traffic home!
If you are a doodler – don’t. Doodling or shuffling papers indicates that you are not really listening or interested.
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention….”
Rachel Naomi Remen