Becoming a good listener is not something that happens overnight. Many people in leadership roles are more accustomed to speaking than they are to letting others do the talking.
Exceptional leaders are active listeners. They encourage others to share their ideas and opinions by asking open-ended questions. These kinds of questions typically begin with "what," "how," or "why" and are effective in eliciting responses that clarify the other person’s point of view—thoughts and feelings that may not otherwise be apparent to you.
When talking with your employees, practice asking short and simple open-ended questions such as:
• Can you tell me more about how you see this situation?
• In what way will this affect you?
• How do you feel about this?
• What are your thoughts on this issue?
Pay attention to how your employees answer these questions, and then follow up with closed questions that begin with words such as "so," "do," "which," and "did" to summarize and confirm their (and your) understanding.
One of the best—and most difficult—times to use open questions is when you disagree with what someone has said. Instead of saying "I don’t agree with you," try asking: "What makes you think that?" or "What led you to that conclusion?"
You may learn something, but more important, you won’t have shut down the conversation, which will give you more opportunity to reach a mutual understanding.
Integro Leadership Institute
West Chester, Pa.