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Enhance Listening Skills!

The good news is that anyone can learn how to be an effective listener if he or she is willing to commit the time and energy. The first place listening breaks down is due to lack of attention—most people don’t realize that there is a process to listening, and that process revolves around purpose, Steil said.

It is the listener’s responsibility to make sure that he or she understands the other party’s purpose and that their mutual purposes are aligned. In other words, you may have to listen to someone else’s small talk or venting—no matter how much you want to walk away—before you can get the information you want or need.

IT managers often don’t feel like they have the time for small talk, which can be a big mistake. There is also the problem of selective listening: some people listen well on subjects close to their heart, but on other topics, they don’t hear a thing.

“In the tech world, a lot of people have attitudes that work against them,” Steil said.

It’s crucial that IT managers pay attention to emotions and distractions. Emotional triggers include people, topics, and language, Steil said. If a politician you loathe is on CNN discussing the war in Iraq, your feelings for the politician may override his or her message, which could be a valuable one. Conversely, you may respect a politician or have neutral feelings for him or her, but the topic of war is a negative one for you. As a result, your first reaction is to tune out.

Listeners must be able to filter those emotions and understand how they impact their ability to listen. Distractions include noise in the room, people walking in and out of the office, e-mails popping up on the screen, or a person’s own physical or emotional discomfort unrelated to the conversation.

“Good listeners identify and deal with [distractions] as best they can,” Steil said. If anything might be unclear, added Steil, good listeners will take the time to ask or clarify.

Listening tips and resources
While there are plenty of books, tapes, and seminars available to help managers improve listening skills, there are also some simple questions you can ask to start the learning process:

Think about the role of listening in your life—how important is it?
How would you rate yourself as a listener?
What are your strengths and weaknesses in listening?
Who are some listening role models in your life?
What can you learn from them?

In evaluating your listening aptitude, you should assess whether you have good or bad habits. One way is to determine if you are guilty of the traits listed in the book, Listen Up: How to Improve Relationships, Reduce Stress, and Be More Productive by Using the Power of Listening, by Larry Lee and Kittie Watson, which include:

1.Interrupting the speaker.
2.Not looking at the speaker.
3.Rushing the speaker and making him or her feel that he or she is wasting the listener’s time.
4.Showing interest in something other than the conversation.
5.Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing his or her thoughts.
6.Not responding to the speaker’s requests.
7.Saying, “Yes, but…”, which indicates partial disagreement before the speaker has completed his or her statement.
8.Topping the speaker’s story with “that reminds me…” or “that’s nothing, let me tell you about…”
9.Forgetting what was talked about previously.
10.Asking too many questions about details.

Discovering how good or bad your listening skills really are is the first step toward improving this valuable managerial and communication skill. It will certainly help both your professional career and team management effort.

Categories: General
  1. John Zimmer
    August 21, 2009 at 3:44 PM


    This is an excellent article on an important skill that is all too often overlooked these days. Listening is a skill that we must practice over and over if we are to become good at it.

    When we listen, we need to listen ACTIVELY. I also just posted an article on this point on my blog. It is aimed at public speakers, but the tips can be used in almost any situation where one has to listen. I hope you find it helpful.



    John Zimmer

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