17 Ways to Hone Your Listening Skills with Employees

Listening is often more effective than talking for establishing rapport with employees. A good manager must also be a good listener. When an employer listens to employees and demonstrates that they have heard and understood an employee's concerns, the employee feels more at ease and less anxious about the interview.

Developing good listening skills can be a major challenge, but there are some guidelines you can follow to hone your skills and learn to really hear what your staff are saying.

The "art of listening" can be broken down into three main skill types, all of which are equally important:

  • Selective Listening, which means hearing everything that is said but screening out all but the key points that are pertinent to the issue at hand, and reacting to them.

  • Responsive Listening, which involves verbal and non-verbal acknowledgment (such as nodding) that what is being transmitted is, in fact, being received by the listener in non-judgmental fashion.

  • Empathetic Listening, which involves communicating that you have internalized what has been said and that the message transmitted by the speaker is one now shared with the listener.

Your level of involvement in a conversation will greatly influence what the speaker chooses to say and to what extent they decide to open up to you. The more they feel they are being heard, the more likely they are to tell you what it is they really want to say.

There are several rules to follow if you want to learn to listen effectively:

  1. Envision your mind as a clean slate.
  2. Listen sincerely and earnestly.
  3. Listen "naively", without prejudice.
  4. Listen empathetically.
  5. Keep your ego in check.

17 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

1. Shut up and listen. This is the #1 most important guideline. It's impossible to talk and listen simultaneously. When you are engaged in listening, let the speaker have the floor.

2. Show genuine interest. While listening, you should convey a lively curiosity and concern to the speaker. This listening style will encourage the employee to speak freely. The open dialogue that follows should allow you to learn about their career aspirations, fears and doubts.

3. Focus on the speaker. Are you giving your full attention to the person speaking or is your mind wandering? Concentrate. Shut out background noise and distractions. Ensure that the meeting spot is relatively soundproof and that other people in the workplace cannot overhear what is being said.

4. Empathize with the Employee. Each employee has problems, needs and concerns that they consider vital and personal. Put yourself in their shoes and try to see the workplace environment as they see it.

5. Make sure you understand. If you feel you don't fully understand something or feel you may have missed a point that the speaker was making, ask for clarification now before it catches you up later.

6. Hold your fire. Plan your response only after you are certain you have a complete picture of the employee's point of view. Don't jump to conclusions. A pause by the speaker – even a long pause – doesn't always mean that they have finished. Rather, it can signify a regrouping of thoughts in the person's mind before they carry on.

7. Watch the speaker's body language. Be attentive to the person's physical motions and gestures. Actions can impart as much information as words, and often are a better indicator of the speaker's frame of mind.

8. Listen for concepts, not just for words. Take a mental step back and try to visualize the larger picture instead of just picking up on isolated words and phrases in the person's dialogue.

9. Interject on occasion. An occasional "Yes, I see," or "I wasn't aware of that" shows the employee that you're tuned into their message. But don't overdo it, or you could come off sounding patronizing.

10. Block out your own concerns. Personal fears, worries, and problems of the listener can make focusing on the speaker's message difficult. It's not easy, but it is essential to check your personal concerns at the door.

11. Prepare in advance. Remarks and questions prepared in advance will free your mind to listen. Before the interview, write up a checklist of items you would like to discuss with the employee.

12. React to ideas, not to the person. Don't allow personal quirks and mannerisms of the speaker distract you from the content of their conversation. Focus on the issues at hand and try to overcome any emotional attitudes or prejudices you have.This can be difficult if the person is someone who often makes complaints about co-workers, is habitually absent from work or displays other characteristics that may make them difficult to work with. Those traits may be a symptom of work-related fears which your discussion may help to uncover and alleviate.

13. Don't anticipate the outcome. Avoid mentally jumping ahead of the speaker, anticipating where the conversation is going. Instead, sit back and let the speaker steer the discussion.

14. Take notes. Make notes of the important points of the conversation so you can refer back to them later.

15. Ask questions. Monitor your own attentiveness by asking questions to confirm that you have understood the employee's points. Asking questions will help you to distinguish valid concerns from internal fears and anxieties.

16. Listen to others as you would like to be listened to.

17. Ask others to rate your listening skills. Practice on a spouse or family member.

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