How Managers Become Better Listeners

Better Listeners

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Do you have a lot on your mind and often only listen to team members with half an ear? In the following article, I will look at what fatal consequences this has—and give you 7 tips to become a good listener.

Many managers often only listen briefly, judging statements from team members far too quickly. Most managers want to be perceived as active doers that make their point to others. 

Listening, on the other hand, is often mistakenly equated with passivity and submissiveness. As a result, many leaders focus on talking instead of listening—a big mistake.

Team members have a keen sense of whether their manager is genuinely interested in what they want to tell him. If managers only listen with half an ear, it suggests a lack of appreciation, even though it may not be meant that way. When they do this, managers give their team members the feeling that they are not important enough at that moment. That creates frustration and mistrust in the team.

This also affects the team members’ motivation. They have to invest a lot of energy to find out what the relationship between them and their manager is like. They can’t invest that energy in their tasks, so ultimately, the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire team suffer.

The Best Leaders Are Good Listeners

I used to love to hear my own voice and did not really listen at all when others spoke. Over time, though, I learned that I needed to be a good listener. 

I started to surround myself with people who are smarter in specific areas—and then I seriously listened to them, rather than just dictating what they should do.

Alfred Sloan is one good example of how this benefit works. He managed U.S. carmaker General Motors from 1923 to 1937 and was one of the most successful managers in the world at the time. 

He broke with that period’s common management rules. At that time, there was a no-discussion culture in companies. Team members simply did what the manager told them. That was that.

Sloan, on the other hand, involved his team members in important decisions. If team members didn’t have counterarguments, he sent them back to work and said, “We’ll meet again tomorrow, and I expect you to come up with good counterarguments.”

Good Managers Look for Different Views

Many managers today are not interested in views other than their own. Furthermore, they treat a perceived lack of difference as if there weren’t any differences at all. “I discussed the topic; no different argument came up. Brilliant.” 

On the other hand, Sloan said that “it can never be super if there are no opposing arguments. That just shows we didn’t think enough.”

That’s what distinguishes top managers. 

They really listen to team members who have different perspectives and expertise. That includes those you sometimes have a hard time with and who get on your nerves because they disagree.

7 Tips To Help You Become an Active Listener

 1. Put yourself in the other person’s situation!

Get involved with your conversation partner and try to put yourself in their shoes. This will help you find an outcome that satisfies the team member—and you, as well.

2. Ask questions!

Good listeners are also always good questioners. Managers shouldn’t be too shy to keep asking until they really understand something or even ask a question that might be funny from the team member’s point of view. This shows the team member that you are genuinely interested in understanding their concern.

3. Let your team members finish!

Many managers cut team members off during conversations. Not necessarily out of an ill will, but because they think they know what’s coming and want to present a solution as quickly as possible in a fit of perceived efficiency. However, this behavior can signal to the team member that their manager isn’t even bothering to understand the problem.

4. Hold back on a quick assessment!

Many managers today also still feel obligated to be perfect experts and know everything better. It leads them to immediately think of a clever answer that will make them look good in front of their team members. However, that doesn’t help solve the actual problem at all.

Even if a manager has a good answer ready, he should not end the conversation as quickly and efficiently as possible by presenting a solution but rather let the team member finish. And only then talk with them about a solution.

5. Take breaks during the conversation!

For example, when team members describe a problem in a team discussion, it is a good idea to introduce a (previously agreed) silence of 30–60 seconds. In these 30–60 seconds, no one is allowed to respond. During that time, everyone can reflect on what was said.

That makes a big difference in the quality of the responses. You force yourself to really listen and not formulate a response while the other person is still talking. There is time for that afterwards. In a dialogue, however, a pause of 30–60 seconds would be very long. Here, a pause of only a few seconds would be better.

6. Briefly summarize what was said

In conversations, misunderstandings often arise because partners believe they know what the other person means. But this is often not the case. To avoid miscommunication, you should briefly repeat what was said in your own words at the end of a conversation. And then ask the team member whether you have summarized it correctly or not.

If not, the team member has the opportunity to explain their point of view or concerns in more detail. If you have summarized it correctly, this will motivate the team member. This is because he can hear and feel that you have understood what is really important to him. 

7. Accept criticism!

When team members express criticism, don’t brush it off. It takes self-confidence to approach others openly and without bias and to listen to them even when expressing criticism. Managers have to be able to take unpleasant things or criticism without directly justifying themselves.

There are several benefits to hearing what your team members have to say, and using these 7 tips will place you on the path to becoming a better listener—and a better manager at the same time.

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About the coach​

Kai Boyd has been a leader, trainer and facilitator since 1989. He supports leaders and their teams to work together effectively, trustfully and with ease. This involves each and everyone – in their respective roles and as people. Tailor-made formats and genuine attention enable potential to unfold and synergies to emerge.

The graduate industrial engineer, managing director and former management consultant knows the requirements of his clients from many perspectives. He works systemically, strength- and solution-oriented. Leading international teams as well as work and academic programs in the USA and the UK enable him to always contribute the international perspective.

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