In his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states that most effective communicators are great listeners.
Often, we listen with the intent to reply, when we should really listen with the intent to understand.
The most effective listeners are empathic listeners. Empathic listening means not only listening and repeating back what you heard but also repeating back any emotions you heard.
For example, say your child comes home from school and says, "I hate my teacher." A parent's normal (yet unempathetic) reaction might be, "Don't say things like that about your teacher," or "What did you do wrong?" A better reaction would be, "You sound upset. Tell me what's going on."
No matter their age, people want to feel that they are heard and understood.
As I was teaching this to a group of business owners, one said to me that he's inundated with employees who want his attention. They often stop him in the hallway to ask questions. My suggestion was to offer them a quick minute now, or more time after 4-5 p.m. This way, he could answer very brief and urgent questions, then excuse himself and move onward.
If he believes that they should know the answer, he asks them, "What do you think?"
This way they would get into the habit of thinking before asking. If it's an important question, he suggests an appointment at a later time.
If and when they show up at a later time, he truly listens and shows empathy and that he cares and appreciates their question. That's what makes all the difference.
He once told me that he had a scheduled meeting with a key employee and he was afraid it might be all about a raise, etc. But when he gave this employee his full attention (and suspended all judgment), the employee was so appreciative that he said, "I really just needed to feel understood!"
today's world, where there is an onslaught of distractions and our attention spans seem to resemble that of a gnat, really listening and paying attention is such a rare commodity that you, as a leader, will not only capture the loyalty of your people, you will actually know what's going on in your company and in their lives.
(By the way, given that they were born into this era, millennials will notice and appreciate your undivided attention more than anyone else.)
Even clients, especially irate ones, want to feel understood.
If you're in customer service, it's imperative that you listen without judgment.
The same goes for vendors, as listening shows respect and fills people with a great feeling, just like oxygen.
Here are Covey's five different levels of listening:
Ignoring (What parents and bosses sometimes do)
Pretend listening (Same as above, just adding, U'hums, as if you're listening)
Selective listening (Choosing what you want to hear)
Attentive listening (Repeating back what you've heard)
Empathic listening (Sharing the emotions you've heard)
He says that, empathic listening is the most valuable form of communicating.