human resources small business

The Missing Link: Listening Skills

Listen, Understand, Act


Probably you have not been told to ‘shut up and listen’ lately…but do you really know if you are a good listener? Or why that is important to your own and your organization’s success?

The old line that ‘god gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason’ reflects the common problem: most of us do not listen well. Research shows that in the USA a far higher percentage of managers are extroverts than is the overall workforce. And many extroverts are better at talking than listening.

Listening well is a critical skill: good listeners are

  • more likely to learn of potential problems and solutions early;
  • better at assessing employees, job applicants, and potential partners or vendors;
  • more aware of changes which may affect them.

Good listening skills require some attention and effort to learn and use. They take an effort to turn off one’s own internal discussions, to think about what one is doing in a conversation, to ignore one’s phone or other distractions, and to change one’s talking habits. But your listening skills can be improved. And this will help with your personal life as well as your business!

Tips for more effective listening include:

  • listen for understanding of both what is said and what underlies the words or tone.
  • turn off your tendency to be defensive or think of your reply while the other person is speaking.
  • engage yourself fully in listening: make eye contact, say an encouraging word or nod periodically, take notes as needed.
  • ask relevant questions: for further information and to clarify your understanding of what you think you heard.
  • don’t interrupt or assume you know what the rest of the statement will be.
  • don’t give advice unless asked to.

Start by making a real effort to practice each skill above. As you master some, string them together when talking with someone you trust. Ask for feedback from a mentor or other close resource to check your improvement progress. Think about how much more effective you are in specific situations. All those steps will help you make being a good listener into a habit. People respond to being listened to very positively. And you will see the rewards!

A common characteristic of excellent sales people, top executive recruiters, and brilliant leaders is their ability to listen intensely. And to take what they have learned about the client or customer and use it for their own success. Being a good listener can help you achieve more — try it and see!

Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management. Additionally, she generously provides one-to-one HR counseling once a month through Alexandria SBDC.

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