What an excellent listener does extra

What makes someone a good listener? Most people think this comes down to not interrupting the speaker, following their facial expressions and repeating almost verbatim what the speaker just said. However, according to research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in Harvard Business Review (HBR 07/16), we are doing it all wrong.

Organizations and teams operate in increasingly changing environments and being able to properly receive and process possible information – which comes in through formal and especially informal channels – is becoming increasingly important for their success. Employees who are willing to share their ideas, concerns and concerns with their management are of immense value in this regard. But getting them to speak up requires psychological security and being a good listener is an extremely important skill for managers in this regard.

Good listeners do more than three things

Rather than seeing a good listener as a sponge — absorbing everything but giving little feedback — a skilled listener should be seen as a trampoline that amplifies and sustains a speaker’s thoughts by providing constructive feedback. According to Zenger and Folkman, two-way communication is essential and they define six levels of listening, intended to help listeners become more proficient in this.

Chances are you think you’re a good listener. How people assess their listening skills is very similar to their assessment of their driving skills, in the sense that the vast majority of drivers think they are above average good at it.

Many people think that good listening comes down to doing three things:

  • Don’t talk when others are talking
  • Letting others know that you are listening carefully through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
  • Can repeat what others have said, if necessary word for word

Leaders who want to learn to listen better are also often advised to do this: to keep quiet themselves, nod and say “Mmm-hmm” encouragingly, and then return to the speaker something like: “So, if I understand you correctly… ” and “What you’re saying is…” However, the research that Zenger and Folkman did shows that this behavior alone is nowhere near what speakers value in good listeners.

They analyzed data describing the visible behavior of nearly 3,500 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. Zenger and Folkman distilled those who were seen as the most effective listeners (the top 5%). They then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in their data set. They identified the 20 items that showed the greatest significant difference. With those results in hand, they determined the differences between good and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine which behavioral traits make someone an excellent listener.

Good listeners are trampolines

Zenger and Folkman found some surprising outcomes, along with some qualities that were to be expected. They are grouped below into four main findings:

Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person is talking

In fact, people see the best listeners as those who regularly ask questions during the conversation that promote discovery and understanding. Their questions gently question established assumptions and assumptions, in a constructive way. Sitting still and nodding does not provide sure evidence that someone is listening. Whereas by asking a good question, the speaker not only knows that the listener has heard what was said, but that he has understood it enough to want new information again. Good listening is experienced as a dialogue instead of a one-way street of ‘speaker versus listener’. In the best conversations, both are actively working.

Good listening included interactions that contribute to one’s self-confidence

The best listeners turn the conversation into a positive experience for the other person. That won’t happen if the listener is passive (or even angry!). Good listeners ensure that the other person feels supported and shows confidence in him. Good listening is characterized by creating a psychologically safe environment in which difficult issues and differences of opinion can be discussed openly. Read our Psychological Safety blogs .

Good listening is seen as a form of collaboration

In a good conversation, the feedback flows smoothly in both directions, with neither side going on the defensive because of comments from the other. In contrast, poor listeners are seen as competitive – because they listen only to identify errors in reasoning or logic. Using their stillness to prepare for their next outburst. That may make you an excellent debater, but not a great listener. Good listeners may question and disagree with assumptions, but the person being listened to feels like the listener is trying to help and doesn’t want to win a word fight.

Good listeners make suggestions

Good listening invariably includes some feedback given in such a way that the other person accepts it and gives them the opportunity to see things differently.

This finding somewhat surprised the researchers. Because an often heard complaint is that “So-and-so does not listen, jumps right on top and comes up with so-called solutions.” What they think might be going on here is that making suggestions is not the problem in itself, but the skill with which those suggestions are made. We may also be more willing to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who remains silent throughout the conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who appears combative or critical and then tries to offer advice may not be seen as less trustworthy.)

According to Zenger and Folkman, a good listener is not so much someone who absorbs everything the other person says, but their research shows that they are more comparable to trampolines. With a good listener you can try out your ideas. You get energy from him and he clarifies your thinking. It prompts action and helps you gain height along the way.

Six Listening Levels

Of course, there are different listening levels and not every conversation requires the highest listening level. But many conversations would benefit from more focus and listening skills. Before a conversation, think about what listening level you want to aim for:

Level 1 : The listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex or emotional matters can also be discussed. A good listener also takes the unexpected into account.

Level 2 : The listener clears out distractions such as telephones and laptops, draws attention to the other person and makes appropriate eye contact. This behavior doesn’t just affect how you are perceived as a listener. It also directly affects your own attitude and feelings as a listener. You feel better and that instantly makes you a better listener.

Level 3 : The listener tries to understand what the other is saying. He captures ideas, asks questions, and reiterates key points to confirm that he has understood them correctly.

Level 4 : The listener perceives non-verbal cues well, such as facial expressions, perspiration, breathing rates, gestures, posture and many other subtle forms of body language. It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals. You listen with your eyes as well as with your ears.

Level 5 : The listener increasingly understands and names and acknowledges the emotions and feelings of the other person about the subject in question. The listener sympathizes and affirms the existence of those feelings in a supportive and non-judgmental way.

Level 6 : The listener asks questions that clarify the other’s assumptions and help the other see issues in a new light. This may involve the listener bringing in some thoughts and ideas about the topic that may be helpful to the other person. However, good listeners never draw in the conversation in such a way that they or their problems become the subject of the conversation.

Each level builds on the previous one. So, for example, if you as a listener are criticized for going too far in offering solutions instead of listening, it may mean that you have to switch back a few levels – such as clearing distractions or showing empathy – before your proposals are properly implemented. being appreciated.

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