Thank you for listening to the Champion Forum Podcast with Jeff Hancher! In this episode, Jeff talks about why people struggle to be good listeners and how practicing active listening can strengthen your relationships, build trust, and help you accomplish more in your organization. In order to elevate your leadership status and become truly influential, you must consistently practice active listening, whether it's in a high-stakes meeting or casual discussion.
“Leaders that don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people that have nothing to say.” - Andrew Stanley
Active listening increases employee engagement and creativity, reduces turnover, helps resolve conflict, and promotes communication. People who feel heard buy in to the vision of the company more and report greater levels of trust.
People struggle to be good listeners because:
It’s difficult to put aside their own self-interest.
They are distracted.
They think they know it all already.
They lack training in active listening.
They have already made up their minds.
They just don’t care.
Signs that you are not actively listening to your people:
You have a hard time concentrating on what is being said.
You think about what to say next, rather than about what the other person is saying.
You give advice too soon and suggest solutions to problems before the other person has fully explained his or her perspective.
You tell people not to feel the way they do.
You talk significantly more than the other person talks.
Q: What are some other reasons people are bad listeners? Have you ever worked for a bad listener? How would you describe conversations with them? What challenges did it present to you as an employee?
Ways to be a better listener
1. Pay Attention
Don’t cut people off, finish their sentences, or start formulating your answer before they finish talking.
Pay attention to your body language and use it to indicate that you are listening.
Be focused on the moment!
Wait a moment before you respond. Sometimes, people offer additional information you were not expecting.
Don’t assume that you understand them correctly — or that they know you have heard them.
Repeat back what it sounds like the person is saying. This gives them the opportunity to clarify what they mean and keeps you engaged in the conversation.
Do not be afraid to ask questions about any issue that is unclear.
Ask open-ended questions to promote further conversation.
Use probing questions to get to the deeper issue.
You could ask:
“What are some of the specific things you’ve tried?”
“Have you asked the team what their main concerns are?”
“Does Joe agree that there are performance problems?”
“How certain are you that you have the full picture of what’s going on?”
This approach will remove guesswork and assumptions.
Restating key points as the conversation proceeds confirms your grasp of the other person’s points.
You should briefly summarize what you have understood and ask the other person to do the same.
Involving both you and the other person in summarizing the meeting will help both of you be clear on your position, responsibilities, and follow-up.
Active listening is first about understanding the other person, then about being understood.
Only after you understand the other person’s perspective can you begin to introduce your ideas and suggestions.
Guide and offer suggestions, but do not dictate a solution.
They will feel more confident if they think through the options and own the solution.
Q: What do you think causes people to rush into a conversation and forget the rules of active listening? Why do you think leaders struggle to be active listeners? What advice would you give to a leader who tends to tell people what to do instead of helping guide their employees to create a solution? What kinds of questions do you think you can ask to help get more information and encourage more discussion and clarification?
5 ways to boost your active listening skills
1. Limit distractions.
2. Pay attention to what is being said, not what you want to say.
3. Be okay with silence.
4. Encourage the other person to offer ideas and solutions before you give yours.
5. Restate the key points you heard and ask whether they are accurate.
Q: What do you think is the biggest obstacle you face in becoming a better listener? How can you strategically limit distractions during meetings with your team members? What can you do to limit distractions if the meeting is over the phone? What do you think it communicates to your team when you are distracted while they are trying to communicate crucial information?
Come up with a list of questions or question formats that can help you gather more information from your employees. Make a goal to ask at least three questions in every one-on-one meeting you have this week, whether it’s with an employee, boss, or client. Having some questions on hand like, “Tell me more about____.” or “What would make____easier for you?” will help you keep the conversation moving without being distracted by trying to come up with a question in the middle of the conversation. Of course, if a question naturally comes to mind, use it!
Try this exercise. Sit down with a friend or your spouse and have them describe what they want in a Christmas or birthday present. Listen attentively and ask questions to get to know their desires better. After a few minutes, describe the main criteria that your spouse or friend gave and make a few suggestions. Allow your spouse or friend to give you feedback on how well you listened and use this exercise to see where your active listening skills are at currently. Repeat this exercise in a few months. Have your friend or spouse describe their ideal vacation or job. Then see how your active listening skills have improved.
What rules do you think you need to set for yourself so that you do not get distracted during a conversation? You might need to consider muting your email or social media notifications. Or maybe you find your mind wandering to your to-do list. Come up with strategies that will help you stay focused on conversations and protect that time.