How to be a Better Listener, and a Better Leader

How to be a Better Listener, and a Better Leader

During my years of recruiting Architecture, Engineering, Planning, and Environmental Consulting professionals, I have found that the top reason why people change jobs is poor communication with supervisors. People don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses. Show me a team leader with poor interpersonal communication skills, and I’ll show you a team with low morale, and high turnover. These types of managers are not uncommon in the design industry. We often promote people because they are very good technically. But technical skills aren’t very helpful when it comes to managing people. The challenge of leading a team is really a different job, and new managers need training to be able to assume their new responsibilities.

One of the biggest challenges for new managers is learning how to develop interpersonal relationships with their direct reports. This requires communication skills. And like many skills, some people are naturally good at it. Others need to work at it. Fortunately, training can help people develop the communication skills needed to grow from the staff to managerial ranks. And any communication training should start off with helping people become better listeners. As of this writing, there are more than 28,000 books available for purchase on Amazon that discuss listening. It’s a difficult skill to master, but it’s the most important piece to building solid interpersonal relationships. Here are some basic fundamentals for managers interested in becoming good listeners:

Maintain Eye Contact During Conversations. Looking other people in the eye shows that you are interested in what they are saying. Avoiding eye contact communicates lack of interest in the other party. It can also be perceived as disrespectful.

Watch Your Body Language. Good communicators will treat other people as if they’re they only person in the room. They will not only maintain eye contact, but their body will be attentive and facing the other person.

Don’t interrupt. Ever speak to someone who thinks they know what you are going to say, and then interrupts you before you get the chance to communicate your message? It’s irritating because they often they anticipate what you’re going to say and they’re often wrong. Think about a manager talking to an employee. He/she may never hear the message from their employee if they’re assuming what he/she is trying to communicate. Think about how that employee will feel. Make sure the other party is finished speaking before saying a word. Personally, I like to beat my foot when another person is talking, and then wait until the third beat after someone stops talking, before I say a word. I want to make sure that I hear the whole message from the other party before I respond. I want to make sure I understand the message being communicated and if I’m interrupting, I’m not listening.

Paraphrase the other parties’ message. Ever play the telephone game where one person shares a message to another, and then that person shares the message to another person, and the process is repeated many times? Often, in these games, the last person, who gets the message receives a message that is entirely different from the one delivered to the first person in the chain. The reason is that it’s difficult for human beings to remember 100% of what someone else tells them. And often, they improvise, or substitute, or even make their own interpretation of what they’ve heard. The result is that people often receive different messages than what the sender wanted to convey. By paraphrasing and asking the person to confirm that you understand what they’re saying, you’re demonstrating an interest in the other person that you want to understand them. This is very important for managers interested in having solid interpersonal relationships with employees.

Acknowledge. Understanding the other party is an important part of the listening process as it allows the listener to show empathy and respect.  Show me a person who excels at interpersonal relationship building, and I’ll show you an empathetic person.

Listening is not the only part of good workplace communications for sure. People want to be kept informed, and transparency is a good thing for sure. But if your managers can’t listen to the people who report to them, your firm could be on the road to high turnover.


About the Author

John Kreiss
John is an experienced Executive Search Consultant specializing in the recruitment of AE industry talent. For over 15 years he has advised and assisted architecture, engineering, planning, landscape architecture, and environmental firms in filling key positions and making strategic hires.

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