Listening can be a very difficult thing to do, especially when we’re preoccupied or under an inordinate amount of stress. However, for those of us holding management positions, we don’t always have the luxury of turning our employees in need away, or worse, tuning someone out when our undivided attention is needed.
The good news is, there is a simple technique you can implement today that will force you to listen, especially in those instances when other thoughts are preying on your mind…and it can be found in the definition of Active Listening – feeding back what you hear so that the sender (the person talking) knows you understand what he or she is saying. It is one of the many vital skills managers learn in leadership training courses.
Below is an example of how to employ “feeding back.” It is a conversation taking place between an overwhelmed manager, Melanie, and her employee, Tom.
Tom: Melanie, do you have a minute?
Melanie: Sure, come in.
T: I’m having some real struggles with Natasha.
M: Okay, tell me about it. [Melanie using a “door opener” to encourage Tom to talk]
T: She’s absolutely useless and is adding stress to my department.
M: Mm-hmmm…[nods head].
T: She doesn’t seem to pay attention to what she’s doing.
M: So you’re bothered by her lack of focus.
T: I’ll be a straight shooter – she’s only here because she’s our biggest customers’ daughter. And we all know it.
M: You believe Melanie is getting preferential treatment.
T: Yes, and we’re obviously stuck with her, so we need to figure something out.
M: You feel the need to make a change.
T: Yeah. I want her out of my department.
M: You believe you’d be better off.
T: She needs to take on an easier role and let her prove herself before she does what she’s doing now. I can’t afford to have someone not pay attention on the job.
M: Got it. You want her to start a job with less risk and responsibility and if she succeeds, you’d be okay with her graduating back into the position she has now.
T: Yep. That would work.
M: You seem like you’ve figured out a plan of action.
T: The only problem is that the President placed her here and I don’t want to put my butt out there telling him I want her to go.
M: So you’re nervous about telling the President that Natasha should be placed in a lower-level position.
T: Yep. I think what I need to do is approach him after our production meeting tomorrow morning and let him know about my concerns. It’s not like he’s going to fire me for just mentioning something.
M: Sounds like a plan Tom. Let me know how it goes.
Concentrating on verbally feeding back in a conversation forces us to listen intently so that we understand what the sender is telling us. We all know how frustrating it is to try to hold a conversation with someone who isn’t listening, needing to constantly repeat ourselves. Not only is this inefficient, it can be insulting.
Next time you’re having a conversation with someone, practice feeding back and notice how the other person continues to open up, getting to his or her point quickly. Not only is this Active Listening skill the quickest way to bond with someone, it will feel more natural the next time you need to listen with undivided attention when all those other things are on your mind.