Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Good listeners = Better managers?

The Journal of Business Communication published a recent study disclosing that good listeners hold higher-level positions and are promoted more often than those with less effective listening skills. Many executives believe listening skills are vital to the success of an organisation. Lee Iacocca, CEO of Chrysler, said that listening could make 'the difference between a mediocre company and a great company.'

Unfortunately, a number of experts note that managers and executives tend to become better talkers than listeners -- because they are used to 'being listened to'.

God gave us two ears so we could listen more and speak less. This is seldom followed and we end up spending more time speaking and much less actually learning from what was conveyed.

In our fast-moving world, it is easy to miss out on what people say. These six tips can help though.

One: Observe the listener

Psychologist Jerome Burner of New York University says that people only remember 10 per cent of what they hear, but the percentage is as high as 80 per cent if they can see the listener as well. When we are with a speaker, it important to be involved in the conversation. Concentrate on the listener's non-verbal signals, such as the body language and facial expression. When we are not with the speaker, other signals play an important role -- the speaker's pitch, intonation, tone, utterance groups and stressed words in sentences. This will help us understand the speaker's thoughts. If you are a manager, active listening is crucial. Ideally, managers should spend more than 50 per cent of their time listening to what is being said. Try not to broadcast your idea until you have heard everyone.

Two: Be attentive and avoid distractions

Most of the time, we miss out on things because we are either so pre-occupied with our thoughts or busy doing something that isn't as important as what the speaker has to say. While we are the target audience, it is discourteous not to pay attention to the speaker. Look at the speaker and keep aside everything else. Stop thinking about work, family, your partner, love life or promotions. These things happen when they have to. It might take some of us time to concentrate, but practice makes this easier. Believe that every speaker is equally important. Do not fake attention.

Three: Think, revise and stay interested

When you hear something, it's easy to revise the key words. Focus on 'content words' -- those that contain the main content of the sentence. If you have to pass on a message, make sure you understand it, personalise it and get it in action. Some messages need to be passed on verbatim. In such cases, avoid jumbling words; pass it on word for word. Demonstrate that you are interested in what a person is saying even if the delivery is monotonous or verbose. Don't let your mind wander; your focus should be your listener.

Four: Make notes

Some of us cannot afford to rely on memory, and are too lazy to pen down what we have heard. This leads to skipping important appointments, missing meetings, forgetting important date and ventures. Overall, it leads to loss. Write down what you need to communicate, to whom and by when. No reminder or note is complete without the date and time. If you have an assigned work area or cabin, use post-its with the required details. Focus on ideas, not just facts. Listening only for facts often impedes grasping the speaker's meaning.

Five: Paraphrase what the speaker says

Paraphrasing is your version of essential information or ideas uttered by the speaker and presented in a new form. This outline focuses on a single main idea. The process that is involved in paraphrasing helps us remember (what we hear) as well. It also creates trust and a speaker learns that you did grasp what he or she said. Reflecting what we hear, to each other, helps give each a chance to become aware of the different levels a speaker and listener may be at. This brings things into the open where they can be more readily resolved. Avoid rushing or interrupting the speaker. Changing the subject is often taken for lack of interest; don't change it until you are sure the conversation is over. Asking questions to clear the grey areas and to demonstrate interest could prove helpful.

Six: Do not assume

Nothing can be a bigger sin for a listener than to assume. We assume ideas, thoughts, and sometimes even facts and figures. We try to be correct all the time and that blocks learning and the influx of new ideas. Avoid jumping to conclusions and anticipate what a person is trying to say. Imagine yourself in the speaker's situation and then form a frame of mind. It shows that you welcome what the speaker has to say. Remember the old poem:

A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can't we all be like that bird?

-- Prajjwal Rai is a Lead Training Consultant with WCH Training Solutions. He is a Cambridge CELTA certified Trainer and can be reached at prajjwal@wchsolutions.com

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