Leaders who listen really well have more influence. They inspire us to go the extra mile. Yet most of us take listening for granted. How do you master power listening?
Recently I’ve been reading about communications, especially for managers and leaders. While people tend to listen to bosses – because they’re in charge – it’s another thing for the boss to be good at asking questions and listening well to the answers. Yet this skill is key for anyone who aspires to lead and influence people.
Many of us listen while thinking about our response, how we will express our own point of view. Some of us often only hear what we want to hear – what we can use. There’s so much more to listening than that, and most of us miss finding truly effective ways to connect, build trust, influence and inspire others.
“Power listening—the art of probing and challenging the information garnered from others to improve its quality and quantity—is the key to building a knowledge base that generates fresh insights,” ~ Bernard T. Ferrari, author of Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All (Portfolio Hardcover, 2012).
It’s not easy learning to be a better listener. We think faster than we can hear. While we’re waiting for someone to finish their sentence, we’ve already figured out what they’re going to say.
So in the meantime, most of us are thinking about other things, like what we’re going to say next. But then we miss opportunities to challenge assumptions. And we lose focus. Bernard T. Ferrari suggests four steps that form a good listening foundation:
- Show respect
- Keep quiet
- Challenge assumptions
- Maintain focus
In my previous post, I mentioned that the ability to really listen is the most overlooked and undervalued skill. We rarely practice doing it better. Here’s more about the last two steps, #3: Challenging assumptions and #4: Maintaining focus, both essential to building power listening skills.
- Challenge assumptions. Too many high-caliber professionals inadvertently act like know-it-alls, remaining closed to anything that undermines their beliefs. Good listeners seek to understand — and challenge — the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation. Holding onto these assumptions is the biggest roadblock to power listening. It’s admittedly hard to scrutinize preconceived notions and shake up our thinking. We must be willing to reevaluate what we know and welcome what we don’t (or can’t) know. Shift your mind-set to embrace ambiguity and uncover what each conversation partner needs from the interaction.
- Maintain focus. Power listening requires you to help your conversation partner isolate the problem, issue or decision at hand. Discard extraneous details or emotions that interfere with homing in on what truly matters.
Create a focused, productive conversation by reducing external and internal background noise. Ask questions that highlight key issues and minimize the urge to stray from them.
Recognize that all conversations have intellectual and emotional components. It’s important to “decouple” the two, according to Ferrari, as several emotions are guaranteed to hinder communication:
- Resentment and envy
- Fear and feeling threatened
- Fatigue and frustration
- Positive emotions and over-excitement
As with anger and fear, excitement can also distract you from asking the right questions and challenging underlying assumptions.
“The most exciting part is that, once you get good at listening, you will be able to do it easily, almost effortlessly, without even thinking about it,” Ferrari writes.
Practice his four power-listening steps to become the kind of listener others seek as a conversation partner. You’ll build valuable relationships, become more informed, make better decisions and come up with new innovative ideas.
If you’d like to discuss how coaching can help you become a better listener, give me a call: you can contact me here.