Now more than ever, leaders must listen deeply to their colleagues, their clients and those they manage. Listening is especially challenging in the virtual world when we are deprived of the visual cues that help us interpret someone’s words. However, when you employ active listening at the deepest level, you can better understand the people you lead and build stronger relationships with everyone around you.
Here are five keys to develop your active listening skills:
- Lose the distractions. Whether you are on the phone, on a video call or face-to-face, the first thing you must do is eliminate distractions. Turn your phone on Do Not Disturb and take away other visual distractions such as open email programs or papers on your desk.
- Make eye contact if possible. If you are in-person, be sure you are looking at the person you are listening to. Similarly, if you are on video, keep your eyes on the screen rather than looking elsewhere. You can learn so much more if you add the visual cues to the words you hear.
- Focus on the other person. We all have a constant monologue inside our own heads and if we listen that monologue, we won’t be able to listen deeply to another person. Turn the volume down on your inner monologue by focusing intensely on the other person. What is that person saying? What is their tone of voice? If you can see them, what does their body language tell you?
- Tune in to your gut. Sometimes our intuition tells us that something is not right or that the other person’s words do not match their true message. When your gut tells you that something is off, listen to it. Notice what you pick up about the other person’s mood, values and emotions when you listen at a gut level.
- Ask better questions. The quality of what you are listening to improves when you ask more powerful questions. Stay away from questions that invite a yes or no answer, and instead probe where you are curious. Ask questions that open up the conversation, and you will learn much more.
Listening is an art, and your active listening skills will improve with conscious practice. Whether you are interacting by phone, video or face-to-face, bring an intention to listen to that interaction. Active listening will transform the quality of your conversations. As you listen more deeply to others, you will not only gather better information, but you will also build stronger relationships with direct reports, clients and colleagues.