Most people would consider themselves good listeners. As with many things people’s self-assessments of themselves is much higher than the reality. And being a good listener is an essential part of being a good leader. Take a moment to set ego aside and assess whether are not you are listening as well as you could be.
Many people believe that good listening comes down to three simple items: not talking when others are speaking; letting others know you’re listening through facial expression and verbal confirmations (“mmmhmm”); being able to repeat what others have said, maybe even word for word.
A lot of managing advice given about being a good listener specifically instructs that managers do these things. Remain mostly quiet, nod with the obligatory “mmmhmm” and repeat back what the speaker has said. However, many believe this falls short or is at best just the beginning of good listening.
Consider the following as well.
Good listening isn’t just about polite silence while the other person talks. In fact, many believe the opposite is true. Many think that those who periodically ask questions that encourage exploration of the topic to be good listeners. These listeners ask questions that challenge the status quo in a constructive way. Sitting, nodding and making little sounds is no assurance that someone is really listening but when someone hears that their listener is critically analyzing what they say and asking critical thinking questions they know that person is really listening.
Good listening should include some kind of interaction that helps build the speaker’s self-esteem. A good listener makes the conversation a positive experience and this can’t happen through silence or negative criticism. Good listeners make people feel supported and that the listener has confidence in them.
The best listening is seen as a just a part of cooperative conversation. Feedback should be a back and forth with neither party becoming defensive about what the other has said. Looking only for errors in what another is saying might make you good at academic argumentation but not a good listener. The speaker should feel you are trying to help.
Just listening isn’t enough.
Good listeners do make suggestions. If a listener says nothing the speaker might as well journal their problems as the blank page is as responsive as a listener who says nothing, suggests nothing and doesn’t actively support the speaker.