The number one characteristic missing in firm leadership is communication according to over 800 respondents in the CPA Consultants’ 2012 leadership survey. This is very consistent with the employee surveys we conduct and the feedback we hear from accounting professionals in firms across the country.
Most of us think that to be better communicators, we need to say more. But that’s only half the battle! The most often overlooked communication skill is how well we listen. Merriam-Webster says listening is to “hear something with thoughtful attention or give consideration.” Listening goes beyond the physical act of hearing. Listening means thinking about what we hear and applying it, if possible, to the topic or leadership challenges at hand.
We’ve all heard we’re supposed to apply “active” listening skills. However, if you’re like me, you can use regular reminders to ensure that when listening, others feel truly heard and appreciated for the information they are sharing.
To become a better listener, consider practicing these four ideas:
- Refrain from multi-tasking – in our fast-paced, demanding environments, we often find ourselves doing multiple things at once for the sake of “efficiency.” However, we miss information and details that can end up causing us to take longer to finish a conversation. More importantly, we miss the opportunity to develop and deepen the relationship with the person who is speaking to us. Multi-tasking during a conversation sends a message that what the other person has to say is not important. Instead, turn away from your email, put your pencil down, or ask to schedule the conversation at a later time when you can give your full attention.
- Stop the inner dialogue – we all have experienced thinking about what we’re going to say next in a conversation with someone while they’re still talking. Or worse, we are thinking about something completely different than the topic at hand. This is because our brain is on auto-pilot, but we can stop it once we identify it is happening. This may require admitting that you weren’t listening and ask them to repeat what they just said or you may need to request that you write a thought down so you don’t lose it and can then turn your full attention back to the conversation.
- Let the speaker finish – being pressed for time often has us rush the speaker, but when we do we give the speaker the impression that what they have to say isn’t important or valued. We also risk missing critical information or a viewpoint that we may not have considered. If you do cut someone off or interrupt them when they are speaking, practice apologizing immediately and asking them to continue.
- Remember what you heard – the person speaking to you has an expectation that you will remember what was said. I know for me managing so multiple projects and clients plus commitments outside of work (and as I age!), I need to rely more on tools other than my memory to help me remember what was said. Two simple tools are taking notes during a conversation and writing a recap of the decisions made and any actions, who owns the action and by-when it will be completed or statused. Using these tools also helps reduce multi-tasking and quieting the inner dialogue, too!
Listening is fundamental to effective leadership and team development. How can you improve as a listener? Take our Listening self-assessment and then identify one area you will address to become a better listener. If you have additional ideas that you have used to improve as a listener, please share them with us!
About the author
Tamera Loerzel ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success through strategic planning and retreat facilitation, coaching and leadership development and training Tamera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 952-226-1780.