Up Your Listening Game

September 3, 2015 09:55 PM

We all know communication is a two-way street. But as CEOs and managers, it’s easy to fall into the trap that every word we say will be heard, understood and acted upon.

I just read an insightful book that encapsulates the importance of using your ears while keeping your mouth shut. In “Listen Up,” authors Larry Barker and Kittie Watson reveal the power of effective communication.
“Listening impacts the quality of relationships, job success and personal growth,” the authors explain.
As employers, tenants, suppliers, partners and family members, you have a lot riding on your ability to listen. People want to be around—and do business with—others who listen.

Whether leading a gaggle of employees or interacting with on-farm family members, you can improve management through these time-tested listening strategies, courtesy of Barker and Watson.

Dampening. When emotions are high and your team members are angry or anxious, you can calm them down by letting them know they are being heard and understood. Don’t be a wet blanket. Avoid interruptions until they have finished a complete thought or series of ideas. Use encouraging nods and remarks to help the person talk it out.

Redirecting. Regardless of the meeting, at some point your discussion will spiral off-track. Strategic planning will shift toward day-to-day details or personal chatter. Use this strategy to bring the group back on point. Summarize what has been said, and restate the original topic. Or simply explain the topic has changed direction and route the discussion back.

Blocking. We all have a limited amount of listening energy. When that energy is depleted, the information we internalize drops to about nil. Yet the person you’re talking to doesn’t know your mind is full. Ask if you may reconvene the discussion later. This emphasizes you know their input is valuable. You can also use visual cues such as looking at your watch or backing up your chair.

“Listen Up” came out in 2000, long before the constant distraction of digital devices. Being a good listener today is even harder. Yet, people are worth the investment. It can take hours to buy back the respect lost by a two-second glance at your phone while someone is telling you something important.
Good listening takes practice and commitment, but the payoff is huge. Heed Ernest Hemingway’s advice: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

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