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How to become a good listener

How to become a good listener

The ability to listen is both one of the main tools of managerial influence, and the most underestimated. How can you develop listening skills to improve your interpersonal relationships?

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“80% of my work depends on my listening to someone,” observed a CEO quoted in Harvard Business Review. Listening to customers, other decision makers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders is indeed the raw material of which management is made.

Nonetheless, we experience a lot of awkwardness when it comes to listening! Many preconceived ideas prevent us from listening openly and sincerely. For example, why would listening necessarily have to signify agreement? Yet many managers and leaders fear that if they listen, they’ll be obliged to find a solution that fully satisfies all of the expressed expectations. To avoid this, they may use an overloaded agenda, for example, as an excuse not to take the time for dialogue.

Similarly, when we do listen, we often focus essentially on what the other person is saying. Is this simple good sense? Not necessarily. Listening well often means taking an interest in the “whole person,” including nonverbal cues and hidden messages, above and beyond the actual words an individual is using. Take the example of a subordinate who is offering to take on a project, for instance. A manager who asks a few pointed questions and pays careful attention to the small behavioral signals can often detect the underlying message, such as dissatisfaction with his or her current job, a desire for advancement, a need for recognition, etc.

What is more, listening is not part of the skill set generally taught to leaders, as would be negotiation or public speaking, for example. Yet, the value of a few good listening techniques cannot be overemphasized. How can we identify what questions to ask or avoid? What attitude should we adopt when someone is talking to us? How can we resist the temptation to respond when what we hear seems illogical or irrational? How can we take the time to listen without losing sight of our personal priorities? And above all, how can we ensure that the effort we are making to listen is perceived as such by the other person?

Synthèse n°194b


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