In order to lead effectively, I’ve realized that communication is key. Like any relationship, a team can only thrive with strong communication. Being able to give clear direction and define expectations is essential for leaders. Perhaps even more important than what you say though, is how well you listen. Active listening is a skill that sets great leaders apart. Whether it comes naturally or requires a bit of effort, it’s a skill that all managers should work to cultivate.
What does it mean to listen actively?
Rather than seeing listening as a moment to sit back, I see it as an active role — absorbing what the other person is telling me and choosing to give them my full attention. These kinds of things reflect active listening and help you better connect with and gain respect from your team. Here are a few ways you can strengthen your active listening skills:
I start by making sure I’m not opening myself up to distraction. Smartphones are a major source of distraction, so I make sure to silence mine during meetings with my team and to keep it out of sight. While it can be tempting to keep it on your desk, this can give the sense that your attention is divided and that you’re waiting for someone to call. If I know I’m expecting an important phone call and am about to meet with an employee, I’ll make it clear to them before we get started. Silencing my technology helps me prevent distraction and helps me to be a better listener.
Create a summary
As you’re listening, it’s helpful to generate a mental summary of what’s been said. Singling out some main points helps me better understand and respond. I also make mental notes of what I need some clarification on as well.
Sometimes writing down a tangible set of notes can be even more effective than keeping them in your mind. One way to set yourself up for success in team or one-on-one meetings is to take along a small notebook and pen to jot some things down. It can help you in creating that summary of what’s been said so you can better understand overall. Not only this, but the act of taking a few notes shows you care enough to do so. If you’re having an important conversation, these notes are essential to sending a strong follow-up.
Active listening means not interrupting the other person unless they’re asking for a response. But showing your understanding along the way can help convey your attentiveness. A simple nod or verbal affirmation can show them that you’re fully present and listening intently. Active listening also means responding thoughtfully when the other person has finished. Sometimes, I start with confirming some of their points or asking questions about anything I needed clarification on. This helps me express my desire to understand where they’re coming from and what they want to convey.
Communication can make or break a team. Having clear communication is essential to all kinds of relationships, and it’s no different with managers and employees. As a manager, active listening is how I solidify these kinds of connections with my team and ensure they feel respected. I know I prefer communicating with someone who shows they’re giving me their full attention, so I make sure to show that same respect to my team members.