Listening is the number one skill in predicting future success in management and manyother fields. Yet, statistics clearly show the inability of today’s managers to listen and comprehend — less than 50 percent of an average conversation will be retained when it’s over. Sometimes the rate of retention drops as low as 25 percent, which is about the equivalent of recognizing that there is another person talking. For this reason, if you are astudent who aspires to be a manager,you may make excellent grades, volunteer for the right associations andhavehad great internships, but there is one skill you should never overlook: listening.
Your listening skills are there, because if they weren’t,you wouldn’t have good grades in a demanding program,like a master of engineering management degree plan. But the question then becomes, Can you listen well in stressful situations, such as a job interview? Can you listen with humility and empathy, when coworkers disagree or your superior gives you a poor performance review? Are you able to form a connection with people when they are the ones talking, such as in your initial meet-and-greet with a prospective customer or vendor? All of these scenarios relate to the skill of listening well. Learn how to “open up” your ears so you can excel as a manager.
Why Listening Matters
If someone asked you, “How do you listen well?” what would be your answer? The experts can give us insight into how listening turns from a passive state — one in which you may appear to be listening but would not be able to summarize the conversation if it were to suddenly stop — into active listening. With active listening, at any point you would be able to provide a summary of what the other person has said, along with insights of your own to share in return. Active listening is focused and calm; it is attentive listening. Active listening is also empathic and empathetic; you are not just seeing the conversation from your perspective, but you are actually attempting to see things from the other person’s point of view. Where are they coming from? Why might they feel the way they do or have that particular opinion? What do they want or need that has prompted the conversation? Active listening makes use of questions like these to help you take in the message that is being shared, rather than just the message you believe you are hearing.
Perhaps most importantly, active listening makes the other person feel heard, which signalsto them that what they are saying holds value to you. A person who feels heard also feels respected, and a person who feels respected will tend to be more willing to discuss difficult topics from your perspective, with your best interests at heart as well.
How to Hone Your Listening Skills
There are a variety of ways to hone your listening skills, but the simplest is to practice listening. If your attention tends to wander during teleconference meetings, for example, start there. Help yourself to learn to listen by having a pen and paper ready to take notes about what you have heard. If you are in conversations that aren’t the most interesting, then shift your attention to the act of listening itself.
Challenge yourself to repeat back the last statement the speaker made at any moment. Be aware of your posture and body language as you listen — is it open and receptive or closed and aggressive? Adjust your posture as needed. Ask others for feedback about your listening skills — what do you do well, and where do you need to improve? In this way, by practicing and paying attention, you can easily refine your listening skills, becoming a five-star manager as you do so.
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About the Author: Harvey Charmhousky is a guest blogger studying in one of the many online mba degree programs. When he is not completing his online coursework, he works as a freelance writer.