Magazine article Talent Development

Active Listening Leads to Business Success: Learning to Be an Active Listener Will Increase Your Leadership Capabilities-And Guide You on a Path toward Personal and Professional Success

Magazine article Talent Development

Active Listening Leads to Business Success: Learning to Be an Active Listener Will Increase Your Leadership Capabilities-And Guide You on a Path toward Personal and Professional Success

Article excerpt

Successful leaders assert that listening is a key factor to their effectiveness. These executives actively probe and challenge the information they receive so they can build a strong knowledge base of fresh ideas and insights.

Unfortunately, the art of active listening often is overlooked when compared with the other business acumen skills that executives must demonstrate in their day-to-day work and interactions. Not surprisingly, when teams are asked to identify which skills they think their leaders need to improve, listening tops the list.

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Typical feedback on 360 degree and other assessments administered on behalf of some clients includes

* "My boss needs to a better listener."

* "Leaders need to listen to our ideas."

* "When my supervisor doesn't listen to me, it indicates that she doesn't really care about me."

Our ability to retain what we hear is substantially limited. In fact, various research reveals that, in general, we only remember 20 percent to 50 percent of what we hear.

For instance, Harvard Business Review on Effective Communication cites research that indicates that within 48 hours, we only retain 25 percent of what we've heard. The evidence is clear: Although many people think that they are good listeners, they're actually not.

Anyone can learn to listen

Fortunately, listening is a skill people can learn. With specific self-observation practices, anyone can begin to improve his listening. Take for example the case of a financial services executive who was frustrated with her work and believed her career within the company had plateaued.

She had observed that her direct reports were not as engaged with her personally as she would like. After gathering feedback from team members, she learned that many of them felt that she did not listen to them. They noted that she tended to jump to conclusions before they finished speaking. And they even reported that she sometimes finished their sentences for them--much to their consternation.

The executive was completely surprised by this feedback. Nevertheless, she immediately went to work on changing her listening behaviors. In a short time, she began to notice a difference in how her team interacted with her, as well as with one another.

Her improved listening skills were not only noticed, but appreciated. The spirit and enthusiasm of her team members increased, and the change was reflected in her team's financial results, which exceeded many outlined goals.

Attributes of active listening

According to Bernard Ferrari's Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, great listeners exhibit similar behavior. They typically show respect, keep quiet, and challenge assumptions.

Show respect. Ferrari explains that leaders should respect a colleague's potential to provide insights. He says that our conversation partners "have the know-how to develop good solutions, and part of being a good listener is simply helping them to draw out critical information and put it in a new light."

Keep quiet. Ferrari has developed his own listening 80/20 rule: Your conversation partner should be speaking 80 percent of the time, while you speak only 20 percent of the time.

When we remain silent, we're more likely to tune into nonverbal cues we might have missed otherwise. Challenge assumptions. According to Ferrari, "good listeners seek to understand--and challenge--the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation."

Path to better listening

From my own experience, I can confirm that the practice of active listening makes a difference. For example, when a marketing executive recently told me she was committed to calling a prospective client, I sensed a change in her voice. …

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