Women_ListeningEffective listening may be the most crucial skill for managers because it is required to do it so often. Unfortunately, listening also may be the most difficult skill to master.


Effective listening is challenging, in part, because people often are more focused on what they're saying than on what they're hearing in return. According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, people think the voice mail they send is more important than the voice mail they receive. Generally, senders think that their message is more helpful and urgent than do the people who receive it.



Additionally, listening is difficult because people don't work as hard at it as they should. Listening seems to occur so naturally that putting a lot of effort into it doesn't seem necessary. However, hard work and effort is exactly what effective listening requires. Here are some practical techniques that managers can use to improve these skills.


1. Concentrate on what others are saying. Most individuals speak at the rate of 175 to 200 words per minute. However, research suggests that we are very capable of listening and processing words at the rate of 600 to 1,000 words per minute. A manager's job today is very fast and complex, and because the brain does not use all of its capacity when listening, a manager's mind may drift to thinking of further questions or explanations rather than listening to the message at hand. It is important to actively concentrate on what others are saying so that effective communication can occur.


2. Send the nonverbal message that you are listening. When someone is talking to you, maintain eye contact, show the speaker you are listening by nodding your head. Make sure your body language transmit the message that you are listening, lean forward and avoid using your hands to play with things.  Most communication experts agree that nonverbal messages can be three times as powerful as verbal messages. Effective communication becomes difficult anytime you send a nonverbal message that you're not really listening.


3. Avoid early evaluations. Because a listener can listen at a faster rate than most speakers talk, there is a tendency to evaluate too quickly. That tendency is perhaps the greatest barrier to effective listening. It is especially important to avoid early evaluations when listening to a person with whom you disagree. When listeners begin to disagree with a sender's message, they tend to misinterpret the remaining information and distort its intended meaning so that it is consistent with their own beliefs.


4. Avoid getting defensive. Too much time spent explaining, elaborating, and defending your decision or position is a sure sign that you are not listening. This is because your role has changed from one of listening to a role of convincing others they are wrong. After listening to a position or suggestion with which you disagree, simply respond with something like, "I understand your point. We just disagree on this one." Effective listeners can listen calmly to another person even when that person is offering unjust criticism.


5. Practice paraphrasing. For example, a subordinate might say: "You have been unfair to rate me so low on my performance appraisal." A paraphrased response might be: "I can see that you are upset about your rating. You think it was unfair to rate you as I did." Paraphrasing is a great technique for improving your listening and problem-solving skills. First, you have to listen very carefully if you are going to accurately paraphrase what you heard. Second, the paraphrasing response will clarify for the sender that his or her message was correctly received and encourage the sender to expand on what he or she is trying to communicate.


6. Listen and observe for feelings. The way a speaker is standing, the tone of voice and inflection he or she is using, and what the speaker is doing with his or her hands are all part of the message that is being sent. A person who raises his or her voice is probably either angry or frustrated. A person looking down while speaking is probably either embarrassed or shy. Interruptions may suggest fear or lack of confidence. Persons who make eye contact and lean forward are likely exhibiting confidence. Arguments may reflect worry. Inappropriate silence may be a sign of aggression and be intended as punishment.


7. Ask questions. Effective listeners make certain they have correctly heard the message that is being sent. Ask questions to clarify points or to obtain additional information. Open-ended questions are the best. They require the speaker to convey more information. Form your questions in a way that makes it clear you have not yet drawn any conclusions. This will assure the message sender that you are only interested in obtaining more and better information. And the more information that you as a listener have, the better you can respond to the sender's communication.