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Will You Listen???
The Business Case
Typically information flow in an organisation is downwards, but more recent thinking challenges the value of that approach. Those at the “coal face”, to borrow an industrial term, often know more about what is really happening in terms of service delivery than those focussing on finance, staffing and business issues. There is therefore a strong argument that managers and business owners should improve their listening skills. That is reinforced by evidence, from high performing companies, that listening is a key leadership skill. It is not a coincidence that many successful people are exceptionally good listeners.
Listening is not a Passive Activity
A senior civil servant who had served under Shirley Williams and Margaret Thatcher highlighted what this means. He always believed one was listening to him, her body language showed it as did her tendency to empathise. Conversely, he felt the other always grilled him mercilessly. But after such encounters only one showed by her actions that she had listened. In practice both approaches (but perhaps not the lack of mercy) can be combined.
Ten Tips for Improving Listening Skills
- Pay attention – undivided attention - calm the mental busy-ness of thinking about something else while pretending to listen
- Instead of mentally thinking what do I say next, try to think, what do I ask next?
- If you are thinking “that can’t be right”, be courageous: explore, challenge, test out your theory – out loud
- Reflect back what you understand from what you are hearing; you can acknowledge points without agreeing with them
- Share your thoughts and your concerns by voicing them
- Be curious. Traditionally, it wasn’t curiosity, but care, that killed the cat (Much Ado About Nothing)
- But care too! Show empathy where you can
- Seek to talk 20% of the time and to listen 80%
- Practise. Use opportunities to listen better whenever they arise
- Be kind to yourself – improving listening skills is a journey
Malcolm Martin – QCS Expert Human Resources Contributor
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