Managerial Communication Techniques: a Few Practical Tips to Develop Your Active Listening Skills

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Managerial Communication Techniques: A Few Tools to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

As we have seen in the article "Active Listening Skills for Managers: Methodology and Questioning Techniques", the active listening methodology offers well-defined steps that allow verifying that the interlocutor's message has been correctly understood. However, we are not automats, and the subjective and emotional aspects of communication also have their importance - and no doubt that this also applies to a professional context!

First, we must not forget the importance of silence as an essential element to a successful conversation. Listening indeed implies living the experience of the one who is speaking and trying to gain access to this person’s inner thoughts. In addition, it may be useful to analyze the discussion more in-depth by reaching "beyond words", a large part of communication being non-verbal in nature (i.e. consisting in intonations, gestures, body movements, etc.). Here are a few suggestions on how to achieve a better quality of managerial communication.

1. A "positive silence": Silence as a form of communication has multiple meanings. It takes on different meanings according to one’s personality or the context in which it takes place. Silence can imply isolation, the refusal of any contact, or some kind of inhibition - and even self-protection (whether it is done in an aggressive or provocative way, or not). It can also express agreement or disagreement with what the speaker is saying or with the purpose of a given task. In the context of active listening, silence should not be seen as a lack of contact, but rather as a sign of empathy. To be silent is to take the time to "taste" the nuances of what this person is saying, to discern its different shades of meaning. Developing this "sense of taste” can thus get us to achieve a better communication with our interlocutors.

2. Dialogue in slow-motion: It’s an excellent exercise for those who want to gain more control over their impulsive reactions. It follows five steps. As your interlocutor starts his/her exposé, the dialogue in slow-motion begins, and you can go through the following steps:

  • Repeat what the other person said ("he/she told me that…"): This sounds easy but experience shows that we tend to listen to what we find interesting and act deaf when we hear something that bothers us: this phenomenon is called "selective hearing"; it’s basically paying attention to oneself rather than to what the other person is saying, which is contrary to the very principle of active listening. This step alone can help us practice listening before speaking.
  • Try to gain access your interlocutor’s inner feelings: At this stage of this exercise, a trap awaits us: we may mix our feelings about the situation with what we think the interlocutor’s intentions are. It can be very difficult to gain access to someone else’s personal feelings, as we always tend to judge others.
  • Know where you stand regarding your goal ("Am I getting closer to my goal or drifting away from it?…"): This may give you an opportunity of testing the clarity and accuracy of your final goal and send you a signal in case you should have lost track of it.
  • Prepare what you are going to say ("I want to say that…"): You are free to consider all possibilities as the other person is doing the talking and does not hear your thoughts. This gives you an opportunity to further clarify and prepare your point while considering your feelings and goal. One advice, though: keep it short.
  • Say it out loud ("I tell him/her…"): This is the heart of the matter; you can finally express what you want by saying it aloud. You will certainly observe that there is often some distance between what one says and what one actually means, as distortions occur.

3. Psychological rewards: It is important to give signs of recognition or marks of attention in order to facilitate the exchange, as every human being needs to be recognized. Self-esteem and consideration indeed derive from positive contact with others. We may thus try to convey psychological rewards to our interlocutors in the form of marks of attention to the person and verbal recognition, or by occasionally adding a few words to what he/she is saying in order to keep the conversation active. Please note that this attitude should be independent of whether we agree or not with whatever the person is saying… There are two types of Psychological rewards:

A. Showing acceptance of the person as such: this kind of assertive behavior may include responses such as:

  • Recognition of the person as being part of our perceptual world. For example: "I’m listening to you".
  • Showing of support:  when we express understanding or do anything similar so that the person would feel encouraged to continue. For Example: "Go ahead, I’m listening".
  • Expression of positive feelings: when we share our positive feelings about what someone has done or said. For example: "I’m glad to see you, your presence is greatly appreciated".

B. Showing acceptance of an action performed by the person: to show appreciation for the quality of the work or the efforts made. For example: "Well done!", "We greatly appreciate your skills", "I admire the way you conducted this campaign".

Sometimes we listen not in order to understand, but rather to prepare our counterattack. We are often excessively worried about what we might lose: power, control over the situation, the initiative or simply, in some cases, time. We are too seldom aware of what we might actually gain out of the discussion. In addition, listening is often perceived​ as an act of submission, while it is plainly necessary to understand what others are trying to say, and how they see things. Yet, we should always try to listen to our contradictors - even in the heat of debate, though we may not agree with nor even approve of his/her ideas.

The next article "Active Listening Skills for Managers: the Pitfalls that Threaten Managerial Communication" gives a few examples of situations of miscommunication and failures in communication that none of us is totally immune to.

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