Listen… Please! Communication skills are one of the most important attributes for managers and leaders at all levels. But when we think of communicating we quickly think of oral and written skills. The third leg often gets forgotten or maybe strategically left out: listening skills.
Last week in Syracuse, New York an attendee at a workshop I was running admitted to very poor listening skills. More importantly, he opened up to the fact that he often gets approached by people with problems, both personal and professional, and he is constantly challenged by his short coming. Whether it be disinterest or too little time or an issue with concentration, the fact is that he needs help improving his listening skills.
I sympathize with him. I honestly have a very difficult time focusing on one conversation and one person over a prolonged time span. Not a good thing I know. But I have tried to develop ways that I can overcome this shortcoming and be a better listener.
When someone wants to meet with me, one-on-one, I take a few important steps to ensure that he or she is getting get the attention desired and as importantly, I benefit from the meeting as much as I can.
1. I meet away from my office. I tried to put us both into a neutral arena regardless of the reason for the meeting. This also makes step #2 towards a little easier.
2. I remove all distractions. If I was not able to meet away from the office, I will remove all files, all pending paperwork and anything on top of the desk that will be potentially distracting. I put my cell phone away (not sitting in mute mode in front of me) and my desktop phone on mute. I will also try to position myself with my back to any distractions: office activities, people walking by and maybe even other diners.
3. I remove any large physical barriers between the two of us. This mostly applies to meeting in my office where I will move so that my desk is not sitting between the two of us. But when I meet in a boardroom I will try to sit on the same side as my partner.
Finally, so that I am totally prepared, I carry my notebook. Personal or professional, for me it’s important to be prepared to make notes, comments and or direct action items after the meeting. And I think it is important to give let my audience know that if anything comes up, I will be making notes.
Listening is a science not an art. You need to approach this mode of communication with the right tools, in the right location and with the right preparation.
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