Listening well is the essential first step to effective communication. If we truly hear what others are saying, we are communicating effectively and connecting to those around us.
How many times have we thought we communicated effectively with someone, only to find out they didn’t hear a word we said? We might think we’ve communicated fully and effectively, only to discover we haven’t. When communication fails, we are likely contributing to the problem by not listening carefully to what the other person is saying. If we want to listen well, we need to use our ears, eyes, and presence.
If we observe our conversations, we might realize that many times we aren’t truly listening, but rather waiting for a chance talk. Our goal is to listen to understand, rather than to reply. There are several components to doing this well:
- Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions seek facts, feelings, and perspective, and are hands-down more powerful than closed questions, which require only a “yes” or “no” answer.
- Don’t make assumptions. Instead, ask clarifying questions to be sure your understanding is on target.
- Watch for nonverbal cues. They are often much more powerful than the words we hear. Non-verbal communication is 80% of the message.
- Paraphrase what you hear. Feed the person’s answer back to them and ask if you have it right. This is a great way to check for understanding.
Listening well requires us to be interested and engaged with others. That takes time. Effective leadership does take time, but it is worth it!
You may have heard the old line that a good listener is a talker with a sore throat. Our challenge is to be so much more than that. Being a better listener will make us a better communicator, and will strengthen our leadership effectiveness.