Sunday, March 20, 2011

Great Managers are Great Listeners.

"No one is as deaf as the man who will not listen." ~Yiddish Proverb

Whether it is with an employee, customer, vendor, spouse or child, listening is such an important asset. For a manager, I do not think there is a more vital skill.

I gave seminars on becoming a great manager to the staff of a business we were helping. Listening with empathy was among the key points I covered. Following the seminar, I received several e-mails from participants telling me how bad a listener the entrepreneur was. This one attribute significantly effected how they felt about the company.

When I asked the entrepreneur about the problem, he vehemently denied it, claiming that he was a great listener. However, in the process of talking to him about this, he interrupted me six times.

There have been countless studies about what it takes to be a great communicator, and every one of them agrees that it should be 75 percent listening and 25 percent talking. Listening is absolutely critical. Unfortunately, it is not an easy skill to master.
I was a counselor at 211 Big Bend, our local crisis hotline, for six years. They spent more than 150 hours training us how to be great listeners. I can still remember one exercise where we sat back-to-back with a fellow trainee. One person talked for two minutes about a topic of their choice while the other person listened without saying a word. The hardest part of this exercise was not being able to interrupt to ask a question or clarify a point.

This exercise and so many others were teaching us active listening — paying close attention to what the other person is saying without interrupting or trying to fix the problem.

To this day, I can still remember all of the calls that I took from mothers with an out-of-control teenager. Obviously, I could not fix the problem, but what I could do was listen in a non-judgmental fashion. After 30 minutes, many of these callers said how much better they felt, and all I had done was listen.

A favorite saying of mine is, "What do you learn when you are talking?" Obviously, you only learn when you listen, so you must be a great listener.

The best way to improve your listening skills is to bring in someone you trust from outside your organization and have him or her observe your interactions. After a day or two, the person will then evaluate how effective a listener you are. This can be a very humbling experience, but it is a great way to start the process of becoming a better listener.

Now go out and become the best listener you can be.

You can do this!

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