Effective Listening Skills For Leaders

Internal discussions about employee communication often focus on the words to use. Companies often tell leaders and managers what to say, and the right responses to give to particular questions. You may tell your leaders what needs to be communicated, and even when to say it - but the directive to listen to team members is often overlooked entirely.

Imagine being able to sit across from a team member and know when they are either unsuccessful with or indifferent towards a particular project or goal, even when they aren’t saying so. It will help you lead your team to know the types of work they became passionate about and are motivated to accomplish well. Harvard Business Review called this effective listening skill "360-degree listening".

When effective listening is in place, your managers provide a safe, encouraging, and engaged workforce where your employees feel understood. Effective listening skills are crucial for fostering the type of workforce you need to keep employees happy, avoid unionization, and grow your company year after year. 

The Definition of Effective Listening

Effective listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and then respond to what they hear. It is an effective way to build rapport, trust, and relationships with others. In order to practice active listening, the listener must be fully present and engaged with the speaker. This means maintaining eye contact, being aware of body language, and resisting the urge to interrupt or offer solutions before fully understanding the problem.

It can be difficult to truly listen to someone, especially if you feel like you have the answer to their problem. However, effective listening is a skill that can be learned and practiced. By making a conscious effort to understand what others are saying, you can build better relationships, resolve conflict, and create a more effective workplace.

Effective Listening In The Workplace

When it comes to effective communication in the workplace, listening is just as important as speaking. In fact, many experts believe that good listening skills are critical for success in any field. There are a number of reasons why effective listening is so important in the workplace. First, it allows you to build strong relationships with your co-workers. Good communication is the foundation of any strong relationship, and effective listening is key to good communication.

Second, effective listening can help you increase employee engagement by avoiding misunderstandings and conflict. Miscommunication is often the root cause of conflict, and by taking the time to truly listen to what others are saying, you can avoid misunderstandings. Employee engagement - and the culture it inspires - is largely the product of good communication practices, from the CEO down to local managers. Gallup found that day-to-day engagement is filtered mostly through local managers because it's impossible for a CEO to personally engage each employee. Primary engagement influence emanates from the tone the managers set each week. Communication, including regular feedback, is a key engagement practice, and effective communication requires good listening skills.

Leaders who truly know how to listen, foster employee engagement by demonstrating empathy - in short, they're able to respond in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, many leaders aren't listening - they're too busy readying themselves with the "right" response while the employee is talking. Your leaders may be missing out on an opportunity to support, motivate, improve, and connect with employees.

Finally, effective listening is essential for effective leadership. Leaders need to be able to understand the needs and concerns of their team members in order to be effective. Good listening skills allow leaders to gather the information they need to make decisions that will benefit the whole team. 

How to Practice Effective Listening & 360 Degree Listening

The challenge to developing high-quality listening skills is learning to maintain focus on what the other person is saying for the entire time the person is talking. There are many reasons your leaders don't listen well. They may initially not like what the employee is saying so they begin forming an opinionated response. Sometimes people get excited about their own ideas, cutting other people off midstream during a conversation. There are managers who simply don't put enough value on what their employees have to say, missing out on opportunities to understand their concerns or issues. People also get busy and constantly think about the multiple things that need to be done, meaning they have difficulty focusing on the present.

360-degree listening is an effective listening skill comprised of collecting feedback from all around an individual, rather than just from that person directly. This type of feedback can come from a variety of sources, including supervisors, coworkers, subordinates, and even customers. The goal of this type of effective listening is to gain a more well-rounded view of an individual's performance, rather than relying on a single perspective.

Of course, listening to the individual themselves is also critical. A tactic known as "effective listening" can also be utilized during this process. If you’re not familiar with effective listening, it is a communication tool that helps you focus fully upon the individual you are speaking with rather than splitting your focus between forming opinions, coming to conclusions, or formulating a response. The practice involves listening to and then repeating the information you just heard back as you understand it.

360-degree listening is beneficial because it allows leaders to identify both strengths and weaknesses that may not be apparent from simply talking to the individual. Additionally, this process can help build trust between leaders and employees, as it shows that leaders are interested in hearing feedback from all sides.

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The Benefits of 360-Degree As An Effective Listening Skill

360-degree listening is beneficial because it allows leaders to identify both strengths and weaknesses that may not be apparent from simply talking to the individual. Additionally, this effective listening process can help build trust between leaders and employees, as it shows that leaders are interested in hearing feedback from all sides.

A leader who is utilizing this type of effective listening will focus not only on what is being said but how - as well as what been left out. For instance, asking for an update on a project and receiving a quick one-sentence response can show not only a potential lack in meaningful progress but also a lack of passion for the project from the team member. Consider the response you would receive from a team member who was passionate about the outcome. Even if the project were not going well, they would be vocal about the changes needed or in their request for help. If it were going well, they would be eager to share updates on the progress and goals already achieved. Add to this your consideration of past interactions with the team member: times when they were passionate, keystone moments when their attitude or behavior may have changed. Doing this will allow you to develop more understanding of your team members and what motivates them to perform their best work.

360-degree listening can help improve communication within an organization, as it allows employees to feel like their voices are being heard. This process can also help create a more positive work environment, as employees will feel appreciated and valued. These benefits can also guard your organization against union organizing, bad press, and even costly legal fees. An employee serving under a manager who effectively listens is more likely to feel comfortable sharing struggles and issues within the company than looking to unions, government agencies, or lawyers. Effective listening skills can also help increase productivity, as leaders will be able to identify areas where employees may need more support.

3 Different Types of Communication Barriers and How to Overcome Them

There are a number of things that can get in the way of effective communication. Here are three common communication barriers and how to overcome them:

One common barrier to effective communication is noise. Noise can come from both external sources (such as traffic or construction) and internal sources (such as our own thoughts). To overcome this barrier, it is important to find a quiet place to talk, or to use headphones if you are on the phone.

Another common barrier is language. If you and the person you are communicating with do not speak the same language, it can be difficult to understand each other. To overcome this barrier, it is important to use simple words and sentences, and to avoid jargon.

Finally, emotional barriers can get in the way of effective communication. If you are feeling angry, anxious, or stressed, it can be difficult to communicate effectively. To overcome this barrier, it is important to take a deep breath and try to relax before beginning a conversation. 

The Importance of Nonverbal Communication in Effective Listening

Nonverbal communication is a critical part of effective listening. By paying attention to nonverbal cues, such as body language and tone of voice, you can better understand what the other person is saying. Body language can also give you clues about how the other person is feeling. For example, if someone crosses their arms or avoids eye contact, they may be feeling defensive. Paying attention to these cues can help you better understand the situation and respond accordingly.

Tone of voice is also important. The tone of someone's voice can give you clues about their emotional state. For example, if someone sounds angry or upset, they may not be open to hearing what you have to say. By paying attention to both the words that are spoken and the nonverbal cues, you can better understand what the other person is saying and respond in a way that is helpful and effective.

360 Degree Listening Is Effective, But Not Without Its Difficulties

360-degree listening can be a valuable tool for leaders, but it is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges is collecting feedback from all around an individual. This can be difficult to do on a regular basis, especially if there are a lot of people involved. Additionally, it can be challenging to encourage honest feedback if employees feel like their voices will not be heard.

This effective listening practice is also time-consuming, as it requires leaders to collect and review a lot of data. This data can be difficult to interpret, especially if there are conflicting opinions. Finally, it can possibly create tension within an organization if employees feel like they are being constantly monitored. 

How to Use 360-Degree Listening As Your Own Effective Listening Style

This effective listening tool can be used in a variety of ways, depending on the needs of the organization. One way to use 360-degree listening is to collect feedback on a regular basis from employees, supervisors, and customers. This feedback can be used to identify areas of improvement for the individual and the organization as a whole.

Additionally, effective listening skills can be used to create action plans for employees. By identifying strengths and weaknesses, leaders can develop strategies to help employees improve in specific areas. This may involve additional training or support from other team members. Finally, you can use this skill to create incentives for employees who are meeting or exceeding expectations.

Leaders who use 360-degree listening will find that they are better able to understand their employees and identify areas where the organization can improve. 

Tips for Implementing 360-Degree Listening in Your Organization

Implementing any new type of systems or practices within an organization comes with many challenges. Fortunately, we are given regular opportunities to improve our effective listening skills no matter what industry we work in. The key to getting better at listening, is to steadily make incremental improvements over long periods of time. Here are six tips for implementing 360-degree listening in your own organization:

  1. Set up a system for collecting feedback from all around an individual, including supervisors, coworkers, subordinates, and customers.
  2. Make sure to encourage honest feedback by creating a safe and open environment.
  3. Use the feedback you receive to identify both strengths and weaknesses of the individual.
  4. Develop action plans to help employees improve in specific areas.
  5. Use 360-degree listening to create incentives for employees who are meeting or exceeding expectations.
  6. Regularly review the feedback you have collected to identify trends and areas of improvement

In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell writes, “If you’re in the habit of listening only to the facts and not the person who expresses them, change your focus -- and really listen.” This mindset will help you better understand how to motivate your team and ultimately how to become a better leader.

Good Listeners Are Good Leaders

Managers who are good listeners are more likely to earn the respect of employees, grasp the innovative ideas of frontline people, and gain increased employee cooperation. Active listening involves asking questions to drill down to the real message or to explore new concepts. Asking questions encourages employees to raise issues the manager may not be familiar with and to clarify or justify the desired outcome. Compare the statement, "You may have a good idea. Can you tell me more?" to "I already thought about this."

Effective listening requires your leaders to recognize that coworkers and employees have something of value to say. Also, listening means not discouraging speakers by multi-tasking with technology or anything else. Technology is embedded in work environments, but a dinging smartphone or email system is a distraction. Looking away from the person you're talking to in order to glance at a message breaks the connection between the speaker and the listener.

Many factors influence the level of employee engagement an organization achieves. Listening is one of them. A poll of professional workers indicated 64 percent of employees say their leaders make decisions without getting input from them. Employees who feel excluded are disengaged and more likely to unionize or find a new job. There are many ways to communicate today, and the same principles apply. It doesn't matter if people are communicating in person or via social media or various enterprise or web-based programs. Listening means giving the message the attention it deserves, asking questions, and giving and receiving feedback based on what is being said.

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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