Take a look at any list of top qualities entrepreneurs should possess, and you will notice that communication is always within the top five skills listed. Usually, business pros advise new entrepreneurs to be transparent with employees, encourage good initiatives, comment on the staff’s work, and assertively communicate improvements that need to be made. They also advise you to be empathetic; to make others feel like their opinions and input matter. However, good communication isn’t a one-way street. Exercising empathy is not just about leaving a good impression on your employees, but also about discovering potentially groundbreaking ways to make improvements in your business. To help your staff feel comfortable enough to approach you with suggested changes to procedures and innovations, you need to hone the skill of active listening. To discover how to perfect this skill, read on.
Putting Multitasking to the Side
When an employee is communicating information, needs or ideas to you, immediately put the idea of multitasking to one side. Active listening involves completely focusing on what someone has to say. It demands that you set aside thoughts of how you will answer them and allow them to fully express themselves before you respond. The skill involves utilizing John Boyd’s renowned OODA process for decision-making (observing, orienting, deciding, then acting). Act too soon and you may miss out on an interesting idea, or make your employee feel that you simply don’t have enough time for them.
As Tommy Mello A1 Garage founder states, one habit that strong leaders have is that of asking questions. Not all your employees will be strong communicators. There are many ways to encourage staff to express themselves better. These include using employee feedback surveys and team performance surveys. Knowing the right way to ask questions is also vital. There are many types of questions you can use, including open-ended questions (such as “What are your worries about this situation?”), probing questions (“Can you explain why you think this issue is so important?”), hypothetical questions (“Can you explain how that might improve procedure?”), reflective questions (“So you feel that we should do task A before task B because that would avoid wasting time?”), and similar.
Using the Right Body Language
When talking with staff, face them completely and use an open posture so bond with them. Look them in the eyes and use face and hand gestures to show you are listening. Try to remain still and avoid clicking on your computer or phone while they are talking. Don’t interrupt them through words or gestures and focus on truly understanding what they are trying to say, instead of showing them you are rushed or too busy for them. Time meetings at an appropriate time if you cannot fully listen to them at the moment they approach you.
Employ Strategic Listening Techniques
Don’t just listen to your employees’ words; try to analyze their authentic motivation or needs for raising a matter with you. They could simply have useful practical suggestions that are worth trying out. However, their concerns may voice a deeper dissatisfaction that requires probing. Bringing up subjects such as a wish for greater diversity and inclusivity, or transparency with respect to promotions and pay, for instance, can be difficult, and employees will not always ask questions directly.
Active listening is a key skill that should be dominated by any great leader. It involves a series of actions, including using good body language, listening attentively, and asking the right questions. Feeling heard is a key component of all good relationships—including those between leaders and team members.
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