There are several concrete guidelines that a manager/leader can follow to become a better listener. First, there are several things you can do in general to help you be better prepared to listen in general:
- Keep your mind open: This is easier in theory than in practice. Most of us enter an interaction with the intention to carefully attend to what is being said to us. However, when we hear something—either positive or negative—that is particularly meaningful, we often shut down or allow our minds to wander. Furthermore, we often close something off because what we are hearing contradicts our own opinions, beliefs or feelings, which decreases our efficiency as communicators. Be willing to hear things with which you don’t think you will agree.
- Beware of the emotional power of words: Certain words can easily arouse our emotions to a point where we react to the word and don’t hear what is being said. Words like “effective market”, “downsizing,” and “demotion” can evoke anxiety or anger, causing us to tune out the message. Train yourself to react not to words, but to messages as a whole.
- Preparing: Review the subject at hand and the language of that subject. Pay attention to the barriers you have going into the interaction (your predisposed opinions about the subject, person, or context).
- Listen for ideas: Focus on the central idea and the speaker’s intent. Keep track of key words and continually review the main ideas. Discriminate between fact and inference, idea and example, evidence and argument. In other words, wade through the minutia.
- Work at listening: Listening is hard work. Concentrate. Listen between the lines by paying attention to how things are said such as voice inflection, rate of speech and nonverbal cues. Take notes; jot down key ideas and patterns of ideas. (Warning: note taking can indicate interest, but must be balanced with nonverbal cues to indicate that you are really listening).
- Provide Feedback: Although we will be talking more about feedback in the next section, remember to provide responses that reflect your level of clarity and understanding. When it is your turn to speak, summarize and restate the speaker’s main ideas without parroting what is being said. Also, don’t hesitate to ask questions to clarify what is being said, to amplify what is being said, to probe and to direct the discussion.