All of us like to believe we are known as “good listeners”, but here’s the truth – we aren’t. Most of us get caught up in distractions like phones and conversations with other employees. However, when we aren’t distracted, listening looks vastly different.

You may have heard of Active Listening before, but in case you haven’t, let me introduce you to this concept.  Active Listening is the ability to be a part of a conversation, an active participant if you will.  It may sound easy, but there are many variables that contribute to your ability to do this.  A good leader needs to not only understand the definition of active listening, but also know how to put it into action.  Let’s walk through some different layers in the listening process.

We refer to the first layer as Self Focused Listening.  I know the title makes it sound self-serving or self-absorbing – that is because it is.  Self-Focused listening occurs in conversations where you are listening to what the other person is saying only to simply interject your own stories or experiences.  This type of listening can make the other person feel devalued. For example, let’s say someone says how much they love vacationing in Florida, and you respond with, “Ugh, Florida is so hot. I can’t stand it for too long. I much prefer a cooler climate.”  That response is only about one person – you!  We are all guilty of this from time to time, so while you may think you don’t do this, I would encourage you to replay your recent conversations. 

The second layer is Attentive Listening.  While in Attentive Listening, we are curious about what the other person is saying, but we do not add anything that furthers the discussion. This type of listening can make the other person feel unheard or that the conversation was forced. In another example, a co-worker tells you their favorite baseball team is the Kansas City Royals (as there is no better team), in which you simply nod, smile, and say, “very cool” or “that’s great”.  This does not move the conversation forward.  Rather than cut the conversation short, these moments are opportunities to ask them more questions about their favorite team and improve your relationship with them. 

The third layer is Active Listening.  When we are truly actively listening, we are completely engaged in the conversation.  Other distractions have been set aside and we maintain eye contact.  We are listening to the other person speak, picking up both verbal and non-verbal cues, and are prepared to respond to them. Final example – a new employee tells you how much they are enjoying their job, to which you respond, “That’s great! What do you enjoy most about working there?”.  Notice how that response is geared toward them and not you?  This type of listening can make the participant feel valued and even encouraged to share more.

Disclaimer: Active Listening is hard! However, being a person that really listens to their employees is a great leadership trait. At our next Management Seminar, we are going to give you the practical tools to become a better listener, and an even greater manager.