The Art of Listening So That People Will Talk
Consider this common employee complaint “I keep
talking but no one is listening” "I have said this to
my supervisor over and over but I never feel heard”.
Too many of us find ourselves in communication
loops – inefficient conversations about the same
things over and over again. If you have been on the
sending or receiving side of these circular dialogues,
you may want to reconsider your greatest tool in
performance coaching: your ears; not your mouth.
Research shows that 80% of effective
communication is attributed to listening.
Active listening consists of verbal and non-verbal
communication. Non-verbal communication -
commonly known as ‘body language’ - includes facial
expressions, posture, hand gestures, tone of voice,
and other signals perceived by our senses.
Both forms of communication must support the same
message. For instance, if you say, “talking to you
about this is important to me” but sit back in your
chair, tap your pen and cross your arms, the
employee hears that you are interested and
but sees that you are disinterested and
Match your facial expression to theirs as
you are listening. Blank facial expressions increase
anxiety. Expressions that reflect empathy and
understanding encourage honesty and openness.
Consider timing and location. Try to get
out from behind your desk and move to a more
collaborative setting like a conference room. Be
cognizant not to rush the interaction.
A simple but powerful non-verbal affirmation
is head nodding. Think of the person you feel most
comfortable confiding in. Chances are they do lots
of head nodding to say “I’m with you.”
Reflect – by selecting certain emotions to
reflect back (“I can see how that would be difficult
for you”, “It sounds like you felt left out of the
team”) you confirm you heard them, eliciting more
information and specific details that may be helpful in
Clarify - the most difficult things are often
those we dance around or dilute; making it easy to
avoid saying them at all. By saying “Tell me
more about,” or “Help me understand that more,”
or “Can you give me an example?” it helps
both parties find meaning.
Ask - use open-ended questions to encourage the
to provide details that will aid in your understanding
of the issue. Rather than “Did this situation happen
recently?” try “Share with me how this situation
Also, be sure to ask specifically what support or
involvement they want from you.
Remember, just because we can hear doesn’t
mean we can listen. The art of listening so
people will talk is just that: an Art. It is a learned
skill that requires practice. Take another look at
your problem performers. Consider who hasn’t been
listening – you or them? If the answer is both, then
it’s time for some follow-the-leader, where you get
to set the example for active listening in your team.
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