Perhaps the most powerful of all leadership techniques for motivating employees is effective listening. Learning to practice your listening skills until it becomes a habit can do more to improve your relationships at work and at home than perhaps any other single behavior.
Effective listening is essential to motivating employees. If you think about it, you always listen to someone who you value. You listen when your boss speaks to you. You listen when someone who you look up to and respect speaks, or speaks to you. The more important the other person is, the more you hang on every word, and the more influenced you are by what they say.
One of the big mistakes that managers make, because they are in a position of control and power, is that they dominate the conversation. They don’t use their listening skills. They interrupt people and complete their sentences. They ignore what people have said and rush in to make their own points. They override the arguments of others because they have the power to do it.
But every time you fail to use listening skills and withhold your close attention from another person when they are talking, you make them feel valueless and unimportant. You start to create a negative downward spiral that can lead to unhappiness and disaffection in a workplace.
Motivating Employees by Applying Listening Skills
When I hold my staff meetings, everyone on the staff is an agenda item. We go down the list and each person is invited to bring us up to date with what he or she is doing, the problems he or she is facing, and what he or she is working on for the future.
As a young manager, I used to use staff meetings as an opportunity to hold forth with my “fascinating ideas, opinions, insights and advice.” Other people seldom had a chance to speak. Eventually, people would sit quietly at the staff meetings, give a one or two word answer when they were called upon, and then leave the room quietly when the staff meeting was over.
It eventually dawned on me that I was abusing my position. Not only that, I was wasting the time of my staff and diminishing their effectiveness in their jobs. I decided to do an about turn and instead of interrupting, I would say less, use more effective listening skills, and pay much closer attention when people spoke.
Now, when someone is speaking, I put everything aside, lean forward and apply effective listening skills to the person who is speaking. I nod, smile and encourage them to continue to express themselves. I will then ask them questions to expand on what they just said. When they mention something they have done, I will always compliment them and praise them in front of the other people.
Effective listening is one of the greatest techniques for motivating employees. As a result of paying careful attention to each person, everyone is eager to get their chance to speak and share their experiences and ideas with the others. At the end of each staff meeting, everybody is happy and full of energy. They are all smiling, laughing, and talking with each other. They are all energized and eager to get back to work.
Every executive who has started using this style for motivating employees has been astonished at the improvement in motivation, morale and energy of their team members. And all it takes is a decision on your part to withhold your fascinating commentary and instead use effective listening skills.
There are four keys to effective listening. These keys have remained the same from time immemorial. No matter how many books and articles you read on effective listening, they all boil down to the big four:
Effective Listening Tip #1: Listen attentively
Listen without interruptions. Lean forward, face the person speaking directly, nod, smile and be agreeable. When you nod and smile, you encourage them to keep speaking and to expand on their remarks.
Initially, it takes tremendous discipline to use effective listening skills, without interrupting to someone who is speaking. But over time, as you notice the positive benefits of effective and attentive listening, you will practice it more and more.
Effective Listening Tip #2: Pause before replying.
Someone once said that, “Most conversation is just waiting.” In most cases, the person listening is not really listening at all. They are preparing their remarks and getting ready for what they are going to say when the other person takes a breath. They then jump in with their own comments, largely ignoring anything the other person has just said.
Instead, make it a habit to pause for three to five seconds before replying. In this three to five second pause, or longer if warranted, you get three benefits:
Effective Listening Tip #3: Question for clarification
Instead of jumping in with your own ideas or opinions, pause, take a deep breath and ask a question such as “How do you mean?” or “How do you mean exactly?”
By using effective listening skills, you build trust. The better you listen to another person, the more they trust you, and the more open they are to being influenced and persuaded by you.
Effective Listening Tip #4: Feed it back in your own words
This is known as the “acid test” of listening. It is only when you can briefly summarize what the other person has just said, in your own words, and feed it back to them, that you tell the speaker that you were genuinely listening.
Most people will nod and smile, like the little dog in the back of a car, but when you thoughtfully reflect back to the other person what they have just said, and they agree, “That’s it! That’s what I meant.” You tell them that you were really listening.
You have heard of the 80/20 rule. This rule says that 20% of what you do accounts for 80% of the results of everything you do. In motivating employees and working with your team, the 20% of your behaviors that account for 80% of the impact that you make on others is simply “making others feel important.”
When you can do this with everyone in your company, you will make a quantum leap forward in becoming an outstanding manager and get increasingly better results from every person who reports to you.
I hope you enjoyed Brian’s “Guest Post” on how to use effective listening skills for motivating employees to peak performance. Do you have any tips of your own? Please share and comment below!
Brian Tracy is Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a company specializing in the training and development of individuals and organizations. Brian’s goal is to help people achieve their personal and business goals faster and easier than they ever imagined.
Brian Tracy has consulted for more than 1,000 companies and addressed more than 5,000,000 people in 5,000 talks and seminars throughout the US, Canada and 55 other countries worldwide. As a Keynote speaker and seminar leader, he addresses more than 250,000 people each year. For more information on Brian Tracy programs, go to: www.briantracy.com
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