Friday, April 24, 2009

Understanding Listening Strategies

Listening is one of the most valuable skills a leader can have.

Many people assume that listening is a passive experience, but it actually requires active participation. There are a variety of methods for effective listening, including:
  • using attentiveness, silence, and neutrality
  • reflecting and summarizing
  • sorting and patterning
  • noting gaps and interruptions
  • expressing feeling and testing for responsibility.
When people talk, they expect others to listen to them, but they generally give little thought to what this means. The following are some first steps to good listening:
  • Focus your attention on the person who's talking. Maintain eye contact. If your body language says you're not interested, the person will sense it.
  • Remain silent, except for recognition that you're following along, such as a semi-verbal "uh-huh" or a head nod. This says you're paying attention.
  • Maintain a neutral frame of mind. This means not judging or attempting to control the conversation, not suggesting or correcting, and not praising or criticizing.
There are two other techniques for making people aware that you are paying attention. First, use reflective statements. These are words that echo important words or phrases that the patient uses. Second, summarize what you have just heard and repeat it back to the speaker.

You can also wait for a break in the narration, and then sort out and find patterns in their experiences. This can help to sort out the differences between symptoms and deeper problems.

Try to notice inconsistencies in narratives. What is left out of a conversation can be as helpful in analyzing a situation as what is included.

Toward the end of a conversation, you can encourage the speaker to step back from their story and summarize it for themselves.

Remember that effective listening requires active participation. You should use attentiveness, silence and neutrality when listening. It's important to use reflective statements and summarize the employee's message. You should also sort symptoms from deeper problems, note gaps and interruptions in your employee's story, encourage your employee to express feeling, and test for responsibility.

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