Learn to listen
Manager or not, as humans we like to talk. We feel our opinion has to be heard, and if you aren’t conscious about this, it’s really hard to keep yourself back.
In a normal setting, this already can be annoying. It can be annoying for the other person if you are always talking and don’t leave room for them. This can be frustrating and will damage your relationship.
But as a manager, you are creating even bigger issues. And especially as a new and insecure manager, it is hard to stop yourself from talking all the time. By not listening you block the growth and development of your direct reports.
To do something about it, watch yourself in the next conversation you have. When someone else is talking, what happens in your head? Are you listening, or are you already preparing your answer? Are you listening, or are you hoping to shout your answer into the world soon?
For me, this was eye-opening. And I felt ashamed, too.
Typically, I was waiting to tell my story, without paying attention to their story. And this is also noticed by the people I “listened” to. They noticed that I am not giving them my full attention.
I wasn’t there to talk about them, I was there to talk about myself and my agenda. And if I am not 100 percent there for them, how could I expect them to open up and tell me their real problems?
Ok, we know the main issue, what can we do about it?
Practice active listening
Before diving any deeper, we need to convince the other person that we are good listeners and that we are here for them.
First, pay attention to your body language. Keep eye contact and open your body towards them. Keep your hands and your body calm.
If you need to take notes, mention it in the beginning. Take notes on paper, even if it’s a virtual meeting. It’s less interrupting than a keyboard. Don’t multitask. Don't do anything else. Your only job is to listen and give your full attention.
And now the hardest part – DO NOT INTERRUPT! Except someone is constantly losing themselves in monologues, don’t interrupt them. Listen and see where the conversation goes. As people talk about what’s important to them, you can figure out a lot by letting them go on.
Now that we have the basics of listening covered, let’s dig deeper.
Listen to understand, not respond
At some point, the other person will stop talking – I have to disappoint you, it’s still not your time to talk.
Your goal in the conversation should be to guide the other person to solve their own issue. Whenever the conversation stops, resist throwing in advice, resist the urge to answer. There is a reason "listen" and "silent" share the same letters.
For me, the 7-second rule worked well: After seven seconds of silence, I am allowed to answer. Again, the answer shouldn’t be your advice. Instead, we want to understand more about the issue and guide our direct reports to find the solution on their own. And that we can do by asking the right questions.
The right question can be as simple as “What else?” or one of the following:
- What outcome are you looking for?
- What’s the real challenge here?
- Where do you need my support?
- What have you tried before?
- What else could you try?
And after any question, the whole process starts again. Listen without interrupting. Listen even more.
Ask and guide your direct report to the right answer.
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” — Epictetus
It may sound counter-intuitive, but managers aren’t there to be talking all the time. That’s why I like Epictetus quote so much – good managers should listen twice as much as they speak.
That’s it for this time
P.S.: Next time we’ll have a talk about how to bring the business context into your team.
P.P.S.: If you would like to learn more about coaching, I’d highly recommend you to read The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. You can find this book and more on the resources page.