New Manager’s Survival Guide: Listening Skills

by Ben Richardson
31st October 2019    
New Manager Listening Post Image

New Manager’s Survival Guide – Listening to your Team

There is a huge difference between hearing someone talking and listening to them.

Active listening isn’t easy but it is a key part of line management, as a new manager, you need to make learning this skill a top priority in order to get full engagement from your team.

Listen effectively and you will understand your team properly. Understanding them will help you to build rapport and be more empathetic. Great leaders know how important being a good listener is.

Many new managers fall into the trap of thinking that new that they are a manager they must have the best ideas and the final say. This means that they aren’t really listening to your team. They will miss the great ideas that their team brings to them, and after a while their team will stop even bringing ideas to them.

 

Why is Listening Important?

As a new manager, you should be asking questions of your peers and senior managers about what it is they want and how they want to achieve it. At the same time, you need to remember to be asking the same sorts of questions of your team members who also have individual goals and aspirations that they would like to achieve.

By listening to them carefully you are demonstrating to them that they are important to you and that you value their opinion. Feeling that their manager will listen to them gives people a sense of control and agency which is key to building enthusiasm and trust.

Happy and satisfied employees are loyal and become the backbone of any successful company.

 

Types of Listening

There are a number of different listening styles and techniques that can be applied to your role:

1. Internal Listening

This type of listening is when you are already thinking of a response before the other person has even finished talking. Unfortunately, this is the most common and easy type of listening.

It is a natural response to the desire to dive in and answer a question. The problem is that the person doing the speaking can usually sense that you are just waiting for a pause so that you can dive in and answer the question rather than listening carefully. It also means that you are missing some of their explanation and so might be trying to answer the wrong question.

2. Focused Listening

This type of listening is very responsive to what the other person has to say. It involves focusing carefully on what they are saying and only interrupting to encourage them by paraphrasing. It also involves using keywords in your responses to show that you are really paying attention.

This paraphrasing is matched with eye contact and mirroring their pace, so they don’t feel hurried or rushed through what they want to say.

3. Reflective Listening

This is used by very skilled listeners and requires a lot of practice.

Reflective listening literally involves reflecting back what the speaker has said to show that you are listening and that they have been understood.

It involves clarifying what the other person is telling you which helps them to open up and expand on the points that they are trying to make. Questions are not used just for the sake of responding but to elicit more information from the speaker. This form of listening is the gold standard for engaging with your team members.

 

Listening: Meetings & When In Public

Don’t be the manager that holds meetings which are either just announcements or completely for show.

We’re all been in meetings where no-one is really allowed to contribute or ask questions. They’re hugely frustrating as they are such a waste of time.

Now that you are managing a team you can change things like this. Make sure that meetings are open and encourage your team to contribute and ask questions.

Great listening will help to promote active participation from your team and encourage them to speak up. In a boardroom setting,

Key things to focus on include:

Establish A Good Talking vs. Listening Ratio

Being a good listener in a meeting setting does not mean you need to stop for everyone’s comments or questions. You need to control the meeting and keep things moving so it’s fine to ask for questions at the end of a presentation.

However, you must make sure that there is plenty of time and energy left for questions and comments so that your team can see that you’re really interested in their thoughts. The amount of time you spend talking versus the amount of time you spend listening is something to really watch.

Be Positive About Questions

When asked a question, smile and use positive language to encourage them and let them know you are really listening.

Responses such as “Great question” or “That’s an interesting point” will let your team know you value their input.

Eye contact

Eye contact is the best and most important way to let someone know that they have your attention.

When replying to questions, make sure that you hold good eye contact with whoever has asked the question.

Body Language

In addition to your eye contact, your body language needs to be positive and encouraging.

This is another very obvious tell-tale sign of whether you are listening or not. If you’re not facing your team or are slouching at your desk they won’t feel that you’re interested or taking them seriously.

Ask for feedback

Whether people have questions or not solicit feedback from your team, especially from those who are shyer and so less likely to come out and give you their thoughts.

This shows everyone that you want feedback and it shows that person in particular that you really value their opinion.

By doing these things you will find as a new manager, you will get to know your team better and better input from them.

 

Listening – One to One

A key role for you as a new manager is to provide a safe space for your employees. This will allow them to open up and really be able to discuss important matters with you.

Feeling listened to without being judged make all of us feel more understood and more likely to talk and share ideas in the future. It makes us feel valued and recognised as an individual.

The key areas to focus on for one-to-one meetings are:

1. Set the scene
Being able to hold a meeting with an employee and listen to them means making them comfortable in their environment. Usually, a quiet office and an offer of water or a coffee will set the tone for the employee and they are more likely to open up.

2. Avoid Or Remove Distractions

Meetings where phones are ringing, or people are walking in and out will be frustrating and counter-productive for both of you. Make sure that you can talk uninterrupted for a decent length of time when sitting down for a one-to-one with a team member.

3. Don’t Interrupt Or Change The Subject

Unless it is a quick clarification allow the other person to speak uninterrupted. This will allow them to explain themselves fully and ensure that you can start getting to the root of any issues.

4. Nod And Make Eye Contact

Your facial responses to their conversation will show you are fully attentive and reacting to what they are saying. As above smile, and use positive body language to encourage them.

5. Refer To What They Have Said

When you do ask a question, refer to something specific and use their phrase, if possible, to show that you have listened carefully.

6. Finalise With A Recap

Briefly going back over what has been talked about and picking out two or three points of interest that you may want to action plan will show the employee that you want some concrete actions to come out of the meeting and so make them feel valued.

 

Listening Practice

Like all good skills, to be good at them we need to practice, and listening is no different.

If you are serious about building up your skills ask a colleague or friend to tell you a short story, perhaps about their day or an event they attended.

Firstly, listen for the facts and just the facts, such as the time, the place, the weather or what they ate and note them down.

Next, ask them to tell you again but listen out only for emotions or feelings they expressed in conversation. Were they happy? Did they feel tired or maybe excited?

Finally, ask them to tell you one more time and note down only the things you would like more clarity on to be confident that you understand them.

Practice what sort of questions you might ask them to find out more, and how you can change your body language and tone to encourage them to open up and explain further.

Finally, ask them for feedback. Did they feel you were listening carefully? Did they think your questions where encouraging?

 

Becoming a great listener takes many years. You won’t become a great listener overnight but if you commit to becoming a great listener and keep practicing it will pay huge dividends during your career.

 

If you would like to further develop your listening and communication skills, our new manager & line manager training course has a full section on this.

 

Other Articles In The ‘New Manager’s Survival Guide’ Series

New Managers Survival Guide: The Complete Guide To One To One Meetings

New Manager’s Survival Guide: 4 Things To Do On Day One

New Manager’s Survival Guide: 3 Things To Do In Your First Week

New Manager’s Survival Guide: 4 Things To Do In Your First Month

New Manager’s Survival Guide: Running Performance Reviews