Are You An Active Listener?

Today's article is by Nanci Gulley, a former Navy service member, reminds us of the importance of active listening. This inherently is a skill that is fundamental for good leading and mentoring.

When was the last time you looked at job postings? Something many of those job descriptions may have in common is that one of the skills they often require is communication skills. Communication is something that we all do in many different ways; verbal, written, and non-verbal to name a few. Communication is something we all learn at a very young age, so we all should be experts with our many years of experience. However, as you go about your daily routine, how many times a day do you notice that there are issues with communications? This could be something like not noticing the exclusions of a sale, not fully paying attention to your child asking you for something and then agreeing only to find out you are now buying those really expensive shoes you have said no to many times before...

While in the Navy I remember a leader who did a lot of talking. He always let everyone know what was wrong and how if we don’t know how to do the job correctly that we should not be there. In the beginning we would ask questions because we wanted to do the job right and did not understand what should have been done differently, an answer was never provided. The result became distrust in that leader and a very unhappy workforce. Needless to say, others soon saw the problem and he was reassigned. I have often thought back to this time over the years and realized the biggest issue was not that we were not doing the job right but rather he was not listening. He heard our questions but did not take the time to listen.

Organizations often perform climate surveys to determine how happy their employees are or areas of concern. These surveys can be a fantastic tool for the organization... as long as those in charge are willing to accept the feedback. It can be very hard to hear feedback if you think everyone should be happy and the truth is no one is happy and in reality they are looking for another job.

I have been out of the Navy for twenty years now and as I reflect, the best leaders I worked with all had different leadership styles and personalities, but they all listened to others. They not only heard what was being said, but they received the full message being portrayed. This helped me feel valued and appreciated, trust was developed, and extended not just to issues regarding my job but to me as a person. I also learned that listening leads to productive conversations that can create change or make an impact. This type of listening, active listening, is a skill and it is crucial that leaders have this ability to be able to understand and develop those in their charge.

Active listening means that you hear, evaluate, and interpret the information. It also means that you take a moment to reflect before you speak. You may also ask follow-up questions or summarize what you heard to make sure you understood. Active listening would have saved me from buying expensive items for my kids, instead I smiled, nodded, and agreed rather than taking a moment and clarifying their request.

There are only things to gain from active listening. You may make a new connection, help grow a relationship, build trust, and gain knowledge in new areas. You become more open to new ideas and points of view. If you are a supervisor, business owner, etc. you become more approachable, your employees feel valued, and this makes for a happier and more productive workforce. Active listening is a skill that will make you stand out and be a leader no matter what your role or position is within an organization. You will become the person that others search for when they need advice, look for ideas, or just be someone who cares and is there for them when they need to talk. It will certainly help you start a conversation that may spark a transformation.

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