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The ultimate guide to Listening – a leader’s most important skill

Being a leader is by no means an easy task, even those whom start with the noblest of intentions can soon find themselves overwhelmed and overworked. Trying to find a sense of balance can often prove difficult. However, at VMBT when we work with senior management we always encourage one very specific quality: listening. Employees often feel underappreciated, or they may have family problems that are overflowing into their work life. Both of these can cause a lower work rate and have a significant impact on office morale.

Underrated and overlooked, listening is the underdog of skills, providing a leader with the perfect opportunity to build relationships, motivate and inspire all without really saying anything at all. A little like a muscle that needs to be stretched and flexed to create some real definition (although we like to think reaching for the biscuit tin is practice enough). To learn how to really listen practice most certainly makes perfect.

So to help you develop real listening skills here is our custom made list of the five most effective methods of listening.

  1. Electronic Devices

Simply, turn them off. Really, every single one. Put your phone on silent (without the vibrate setting) and darken your computer screen. These deliberate acts will demonstrate to your employee that they have your full and undivided attention. It will also help you focus as you won’t be distracted by buzzing or ringing.

  1. Eye Contact

Maintaining eye contact is not always easy, it can be extremely tempting to stare off into the distance or look at the floor.  During any conversation you should maintain eye contact between 60-70% of the time (or you run the risk of seeming a little creepy.) This will help your employee feel really listened to and appreciated.

Leader's guide to listening

  1. Body Language

A complement to eye contact, body language is another important component of listening. Make sure you are not sat behind your desk, but rather position your chair next to theirs. Try to lean forward, turn your body towards the speaker and occasionally nod your head (without seeming like Churchills’ nodding dog.) It may sound trite but this position will provide a far warmer and safer space, than if you sit cross-legged, cross-armed and eyebrows furrowed.

  1. Empathise

Empathy is not easy, and it can be truly difficult, “to put yourself in someone’s shoes and really take a walk in them,” as the great and wise Atticus Finch commented. Understandably we can become so entrenched and preoccupied with our own mini-tragedies and sagas, that we forget that the pain of other people can be just as real. Empathy is not about offering advice or making a trite comment such as, “I understand how you feel” – particularly if their situation is not something you have never experienced. Comments like, “I hear you,” can often be far more comforting, or when there are no words, try a gentle head nod. In listening, there is no need to be afraid of the silence.

  1. Patience

Perhaps the most difficult, but unquestionably the most important on this list, make sure to listen to your employee till the very end. Let them vent, rant or rave without interrupting or disturbing. Acting as a form of catharsis it will truly help them feel better and make the whole experience far more worthwhile.

If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to give one of our team a call on 07931 325 642.

 

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