Can you think of the last time you gave someone your full, undivided attention? For most of us, it’s a skill rarely used. For the few among us who take the time to practice active listening, though, it can be life-changing. If you want to improve your leadership skills, there’s no better place to start.
1. You’ll be a better problem solver.
The first instinct most of us have when someone comes to us with a problem is to jump in and offer solutions. But when you take the time to actively listen to someone’s concerns, you’ll often discover details that you would otherwise gloss over or miss entirely. A solution that takes all elements of a problem into account is almost always going to be better than the first thing that pops into your head.
2. People will trust you.
Since good listeners are rare, we tend to be drawn to them. By showing yourself to be empathetic, focused and aware, you’ll make people want to come to you with their concerns — and that’s an invaluable opportunity for any leader. When employees don’t feel that they’re being heard, their motivation suffers. So does your awareness of the problems festering below the surface of your business.
3. Guest complaints will be a breeze.
When guests are unhappy with the service they’ve received, they want to tell someone about it. When they feel like they’re shouting into the void, their complaints just get louder. By demonstrating that you understand why they’re unhappy, you’ll be able to defuse all but the most stubborn or righteous guests. Even then, because you understand why they’re upset, you’ll be well positioned to solve any trickier problems.
Sold? Here’s how it’s done.
Step One: Pay attention.
As easy as this might sound, it’s the hardest step for most of us. Focusing your undivided attention on someone is hard for busy people. Here are a few ways to make it easier:
- Look at the speaker, and give them regular eye contact.
- Silence your devices and keep them out of sight.
- Quiet that inner voice that’s already busy working on rebuttals or responses.
- Let distracting thoughts pass by unacknowledged.
Mindfulness meditation can be an effective way to train your brain to be quiet and present in the moment.
Step Two: Convey your interest.
Part of active listening is making sure the speaker feels heard. That’s how you keep them talking and get to the root of their concerns.
- Use welcoming body language, like encouraging smiles, small nods, and an inviting posture.
- Stay silent. Give the speaker all the time they need to share their thoughts uninterrupted.
- That said, you can (and should) encourage them with verbal prompts like “yes,” or “right.”
For more on non-verbal rapport building, check out this video:
Step Three: Get the details right.
Once the speaker finishes talking, it’s time to show off the results of your excellent listening skills.
- Ask questions for clarification or to prompt in-depth discussion.
- Rephrase the speaker’s concerns back to them – this confirms that you got it right, and also shows them you’ve been listening carefully.
- Wait at least a beat before offering a response to show that you’re giving their concerns some consideration.
Asking questions can be tough when you want to seem well-informed and confident, but fumbling without enough information looks much, much worse.
Step Four: Be trustworthy.
The last part of being a good listener isn’t in the listening itself — it’s what you do with the information you’re given.
- Be honest, candid and kind with any response you give.
- Only offer the help or solutions you can actually provide.
- If you can’t offer support yourself, consider whether you can offer resources or introductions that might help.
- When something is told to you in confidence, keep it confidential.
Most people get stuck on step one, so every step you master will put you ahead of the crowd. The good news is that you can practice these steps any time. Every conversation is enhanced when the people in it are willing to pay attention, so put your phone down, look someone in the eye, and practice, practice, practice.