To be a successful leader, you need to be able to really, really listen to your team. This isn't about listening to the words they speak, but interpreting everything in between and even things they don't actually say.
That's what makes "listening one of the most difficult skills on the planet," Nicole Lipkin, author of What Keeps Leaders Up At Night, tells us.
"It's very hard to stop your mind from wandering ... there are a lot of reasons why it's so hard for us. You can always tell when someone's not giving you their complete attention," Lipkin says. "Most of us in the workplace are so overwhelmed with things to do—instant messaging, phones ringing. I mean, our brain can only tolerate so much information before it snaps."
In her book, Lipkin writes about a few exercises that leaders should use to test their ability to suspend judgment and really hear what the other person is saying.
Stop interrupting. This will be hard to do, but try not to finish the other person's sentence. You often do this because you think you know what the other person is thinking, but this isn't always true. In fact, it's often not true.
"Our brains are designed to share what we want to hear," Lipkin says. "We'll look for information that supports what we want to see and hear and ignore everything else."
"Turn off the voice in your head that constantly makes assumptions, judges the speaker and contemplates what you will say next. Don't finish the other person's sentences or interrupt their train of thought," she adds.
Listen for feelings. Since listening is so difficult to do, most of us will listen as little as we can. We're satisfied getting by with the basics. But the most successful people are able to listen for feelings.
"People do not always express their feelings or concerns directly, especially to their bosses. Pay attention to words that express feelings or needs and to nonverbal behaviors that may reflect how someone feels," Lipkin says.
If you achieve this skill, you have "referent power right here," she says. You will be able to influence others and gain their trust because they feel like they've been heard. "It makes you feel closer to people when they have listened to you. You're more willing to work with the person," she adds.
Repeat what you heard back to the person. You should always paraphrase what you think the person said by saying something like, "This is what I think I heard ... it sounds like you're concerned that you're not going to meet that deadline."
"Paraphrasing helps you check for accuracy and understanding. Clarify any emotion you think you saw the person express in their verbal expressions or body language," Lipkin says.
You should also take note of the person's tone of voice, because often people will say one thing that seems angry, but they're actually not. Sometimes this is a cultural thing.
Acknowledge what the person said. This is where you tell the person what you think after acknowledging the person's contribution. Lipkin advises not to criticize what they say, but be genuinely honest about your opinions. This is how you build a relationship.
Look for nonverbal clues. You should pay close attention to any changes in body language or emotion after you've given your opinions. "Acknowledge anything you have noticed and check for accuracy," Lipkin says.
Listening is an active skill—one you need to cultivate. "It makes things so much easier when everyone is on the same page," Lipkin says.
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