Managing is all about communication. And since communication is a two-way street, you should not only be able to explain your thoughts clearly to others — you should also be able to properly process the information you receive when someone is speaking to you. That’s where active listening comes in.
What is active listening?
Active listening is an important soft skill that’s absolutely crucial to leading a team. It involves staying engaged in a positive way with your conversation partner when he or she is speaking. According to Arlin Cuncic in the article “How to Practice Active Listening” for VeryWellMind, active listening helps build trust and enhances your ability to understand other people’s situations. In addition, it encourages other people to share more — which means that you get more information you can use to make informed decisions.
How to practice active listening
Active listening is a skill you can learn and hone. Keep the following tips in mind.
Look directly at the person who’s speaking to you — not at your phone or computer.
Put any distracting thoughts out of your mind. If you’re in the middle of something, ask the other person to wait until you can give him or her your undivided attention.
Maintain eye contact between 60 and 70 percent of the time, as Alison Doyle recommends in her article “Important Active Listening Skills and Techniques” for The Balance Careers.
Don’t interrupt. Allow the speaker to finish his or her sentences, and wait for a natural pause before you say something.
Smile, and nod intermittently.
Keep your body language open and neutral. Avoid crossing your arms in front of your chest.
Use short verbal comments such as “yes” and “uh-huh.”
Repeat the last couple of words of the other person’s sentences now and then.
Offer feedback. In the article “Active Listening — Hear What People Are Really Saying,” Mindtools states that our own personal assumptions and beliefs can impact and even change the meaning of what we hear. To ensure this doesn’t happen, it’s helpful to paraphrase the other person’s words followed by, “Is this what you mean?”
Save your opinion until the other person has finished speaking.
Offer your response in an objective, non-judgmental way, preferably with arguments that support your opinion.
Focus on your conversation partner’s message
When you lead a team, you often have many different things on your mind — and they can distract you when you’re talking with someone. By practicing active listening, you can focus completely on your conversation partner’s message while at the same time showing him or her that you’re interested. And that in turn can make your employees feel better supported and more engaged.