Everyone knows that communication is key to a functional workplace. Managers who listen to their employees’ concerns are more likely to have strong relationships with their employees. A study by Zenger/Folkman, a leadership consultancy, demonstrates that excellent listeners do more than say "mm-hmm" everyone once in a while. In fact, it showed that active listening is crucial.
Most people perceive good listening to be the ability to absorb information and repeat it back. It’s a linear view of conversation entirely focused on the other person. If they’re unloading all of their thoughts to you and you’re not interrupting them, you’re a great listener.
Not so, according to Zenger/Folkman. In a study of over 3,000 people in a management development program, they found that those judged to excellent listeners did have similar qualities. However, they said that rather than being like an absorbent sponge, good listeners are more like a trampoline — they’re someone you can bounce ideas off of.
But their findings are hardly shocking. For most people, it’s actually practicing good listening that’s the trick. Here are some tips they gave for becoming a better listener:
So you think you can multitask? Guess what. You can’t.
Even if you’re actually good at multitasking, whoever’s talking to you is going to be put off by it. In the study, excellent listeners made a conscious effort to remove distractions before beginning a conversation. Turn off that phone, shut that laptop, and keep the earphones away. Show the other person that you’re offering your undivided attention to them.
Good listeners don’t just passively nod and smile. They ask clarifying questions. They collect information. They get involved. They participate in two-way conversations.
Asking good questions demonstrates that you’ve understood well what the other person is saying. Good listeners even ask questions that gently challenge the other person’s assumptions.
People who had conversations with good listeners felt it was a positive experience. They felt supported and confident. Empathizing with the other person’s perspective — even if you don’t agree with everything they say — is a validating experience. Excellent listeners create a safe environment where issues can be discussed openly. They’re neither too critical nor too passive.
You don’t want to try to solve the problem immediately. However, good listeners invariably provided valuable feedback in conversations. They helped the other person consider alternate paths and weigh different perspectives. While they were never dictatorial, they did make suggestions about how to proceed.
Employees value managers who have two-way conversations with them. Managers who are willing to dig in and discover what goes on in the day-to-day operations in their company will have an advantage. Consistently following simple, evidence-based steps will help you up your listening game.