I got this comment last week. It is an interesting question, so I thought I would address it as another post.
"I am a student enrolled in a leadership curriculum and am also an office manager for a mid-size community bank. I have a hard time balancing listening and doing nothing with listening and giving too much feedback. What suggestions do you have?"
Thanks for the question.
In the 22 years I have been doing this kind of stuff (you know the stuff) I have known many more managers who listened little and gave too much advice than managers who listened well and gave effective feedback.
So what should a manager shoot for?
- Take more time to listen. Actively listen. This means asking for clarification and not thinking about what you are going to say.
- Ask more questions. Engage people in inquiry.
- Provide performance feedback as needed. Feedback is needed in order for people to be held accountable. But don´t confuse feedback with coaching. If you are in a coaching situation — listen and ask questions.
As a manager, you need to make sure people are crystal clear about expectations and equally clear about how well they are meeting expectations. Otherwise, I think it is safe to err on the side of active listening and asking provocative and evocative questions.
Here are a few tips on active listening:
You need to listen to the words that are being said and hear the person´s intent, or disconnects will occur. Even with the best of intentions, messages can become distorted and confused. Managers who learn to listen well and provide effective feedback will improve overall dialogue reception.
You are listening actively when you
- Demonstrate a sincere desire to pay attention to the other person (instead of mentally practicing what you are going to say next).
- Commit to being coachable and open with the information being received from the other person.
- Relate to his or her perspective and empathize with his or her point of view.
- Seek to understand the other person.
- Pay attention and don´t be distracted by other things in the environment.
- Ensure you have interpreted the message as intended through feedback, confirming, restating, or paraphrasing.
- Reflect on what is being said.
- Synthesize the information, emotion, and feelings to improve understanding.
- Clarify the information by asking questions and probing.
- Validate perceptions and assumptions.
- Let the other person talk.
- Are fully present and focused on the other person.
Active listening is the practice of showing someone that you are listening and interested in what he or she has to say. This involves giving him or her your full attention through verbal and nonverbal encouragement and validation.
Many people let full calendars, long to-do lists, stress, and their natural behavioral tendencies get in the way of their ability to actively listen. To get in the habit of listening actively, try these tips:
- Be with the other person, fully present and focused on him or her.
- Give the other person good eye contact; don´t let your eyes roam the room.
- Take some notes, but don´t look at other papers or reports. Don´t take such detailed notes that you are missing the overall message.
- Let the other person talk, do not worry about filling the lulls in between sentences.
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Mentally put yourself in other person´s shoes.
- Respond to what he or she is saying so that he or she can tell you are listening.
- Eliminate distractions like phone, pager, and email pings.
Active listening is a habit that you can and should develop. Being a great listener benefits managers by reducing misunderstandings, improving information accuracy, and ensuring that they have complete information from which to work. Employees, peers, and even YOUR manager will open up more when they feel listened to.