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Active Listening is Key to Good Management

November 11, 2022

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

There have been a number of studies showing that employees value and trust their direct supervisor’s messaging more than the 2nd line or even the CEO.  The direct supervisor is a constant in their lives and likely to experience what they experience when they hear upper-level leaders talk. In engagement studies, communication and trust are generally the lowest rated items.

Active listening revolves around empathy.  Good managers are empathetic and can put themselves in their employees’ shoes.  By doing so, leaders can help employees understand work and negotiate around difficult things such as childcare and time to complete assignments. 

Active listening with empathy by leaders at all levels, according to Jennifer Hirsch, VP at The Grossman Group, involves the following:

  • Listen without interruption
  • Pause and imagine how your employee is feeling
  • Show you hear them by reflecting back what they are saying: “What I hear you saying is…”
  • Validate their feelings: “I understand you’re feeling…”
  • Offer support and close the conversation
  • Follow up to see how the person is doing after a little time has passed

Employees want to know that they are being heard.  The most difficult aspect is validating feelings.  The fact is the employee may feel a certain way simply because they don’t know all the facts.  At times the employee has no right to know.  At other times, employees simply won’t listen if facts are provided.  The best one can do in this situation is validate with qualifiers: “I understand how you are feeling but . . .”

If the manager is not a good listener, coach them in the following ways to improve their active listening skills per Ms. Hirsch:

  • Approach each dialogue with the goal to learn something. Think of the person as someone who can teach you.
  • Stop talking and focus closely on the speaker. Suppress the urge to think about what you’re going to say next or to multitask.
  • Encourage with positive feedback. If you can see that a speaker has some trouble expressing a point or lacks confidence, encourage him or her with a smile, a nod, or a positive question to show your interest.
  • Listen for total meaning. Understand that in addition to what is being said, the real message may be non-verbal or emotional. Checking body language is one way to seek true understanding.
  • Pay attention to your responses. Remember that the way you respond to a question also is part of the dialogue. Keep an open mind and show respect for the other person’s point of view even if you disagree with it.

This process is not a one-time thing.  Managers can fall out of the active listening mode as easily as they attempt it.  HR should continually coach and reinforce the active listening skill, whether by coaching, sending them to training, or otherwise working with managers in other ways.

A culture that does not enforce active listening by leaders is a culture that will likely have greater dysfunction and turnover – not a good approach in this labor market.  What happens at work may have positive consequences for managers’ home lives as well – a nice residual.  Happy employees equate to a more productive workforce.

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