6 listening tips for managers

Homme et femme qui discutent

You are talking to a colleague or employee and you get a sense of what they are going to say. Fight the urge to finish their sentence! Instead, follow this active listening advice. You’ll help build the person’s confidence and foster job satisfaction – more so than by simply cutting the person off.

What is active listening?

Developed by Carl Rogers, an American psychologist, this approach is based on the difference between listening and hearing. This approach will teach you to employ better techniques in your interactions.

At the office, this is especially useful for:

  • Improving the quality of communications.
  • Managing disputes.
  • Enhancing managerial aptitudes.
  • Engaging staff, and so much more.

1. Be Attentive

An employee needs to talk to you. Focus on their words without thinking about how you’re going to answer a response.

The idea is to truly understand what the person is saying—not relying on our own impression. Remember that every new word will provide insight.

Make your willingness to listen known. Don’t multitask. Avoid distractions (like checking your phone).

While the person is talking to you, make eye contact to show that they have all your attention.

2. Ask Open-ended Questions

Sometimes, the gap between what a person says and what we hear can be huge. The best way to understand is by asking pertinent follow-up questions and clarifying the point the person is trying to make.

This works best with open-ended questions. They encourage discussion more so than questions that require a simple yes or no—two answers that are rarely helpful!

Ask questions like:

What would you like to do differently this year at our team meetings?

How would you improve the process?

These questions will make the employee see that their vision and opinion matter. They will feel listened to. That’s motivating!

3. Silence is Golden

We’ve all had conversations that go back and forth like a tennis match.

This is fine for chit-chat, but what you’re looking to do is increase the value and scope of your discussion. Wait 3-5 seconds before replying. Replying immediately gives the impression that your answer was automatic.

Active listening means not being afraid of silence. By taking a break before responding, you show employees that:

  • You give value to what they are saying
  • You are thinking before speaking

The risk of interrupting dissipates and your employees will feel more respected.

4. No Labels, No Judgment

Avoid being categorical so as to remain open to their comments.

We all have preconceived notions. For example, no one is immune to the following thoughts:

  • This person wants to talk to me... this is going to take awhile... yada yada...
  • This person is such a negative ninny, I’m sure he wants to complain.

Labelling people goes against active listening!

5. What’s Not Being Said

Communication is more than words! Remember, non-verbal communication speaks volumes too.

Imagine that an employee is sitting in your office. Look at their posture... their facial expression... the tone of their voice. Try to glean information from them.

If you think you observe something, like a specific emotion, validate it using the reflection of feelings technique.

Mains sur une table

6. Reflecting Feelings

Is the conversation going nowhere? Consider using this technique to encourage the person to delve into their thoughts:

  • Start by identifying the feelings perceived in the employee. To do so, concentrate on what they are saying.
  • Formulate a quick affirmation (not in the form of a question). E.g. You are disappointed in X.
  • Allow the employee to validate their feelings or make adjustments.

Reflecting feelings lets you show empathy. You build your employees’ trust.

Case Study

Yesterday, Lucas’ presentation to a major client didn’t go very well. He decides to tell Martin, his boss, what happened. While talking, Lucas shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head. Martin picks up on this non-verbal communication (using reflection):

- You look discouraged. Am I wrong? I want to make sure I understand. Can you tell me more? Lucas says he’s not discouraged so much as rehashing the events in his mind.

Martin avoids suggesting a solution and lets Lucas finish talking. In doing so, he’s allowing Lucas to find his own solution.

Listening Changes Everything

Applying these six tips and improving our listening skills is a great idea. You will build your employees’ trust.

Your behaviour may even be contagious and spread to those around you. Communication is good for teamwork and the company in general.

Plus, listening to others lets us discover new points of view… and grow ourselves.