An effective manager is above all a good listener. While a strong intellect, excellent analytical skills and strategic vision are often cited as core competencies of a good manager, the ability to listen, and to listen well, is often neglected.

Listening attentively not only enables managers to know and understand their team members better, but it also shows respect and helps to build stronger manager-employee relationships. During any workplace interaction, active listening demonstrates interest, builds rapport and makes your reports more open to share information with you. A manager who listens and communicates well is far more able to influence and engage with their team.

Unlike certain management traits, good listening skills can easily be developed. Here are some steps to improve your active listening skills:

  • First of all, be present in the moment. This means shutting down the mind chatter or the inner conversations and focusing completely on what the other person is saying
  • It is not enough to listen. You should be seen and heard to be listening. Non-verbal cues that include the vocal and visual aspects of your communication are as important, if not more so, than the words you use, to be an effective communicator. So watch your body language and how you use your voice. In more detail:
  • Look at the person who is speaking. Maintain eye contact, or rather face contact, which does not mean staring unblinkingly at the speaker
  • Nod to show you understand, agree, or simply that you are listening
  • Make sounds of agreement or understanding. These can be simple: “mm”, “I see”, “uh uh”, “I understand”, “yes”, etc. These are clear and audible indications that you are interested and paying attention
  • Watch your posture as well. Simple awareness of whether you are leaning toward the speaker or away, if you have your arms folded, your head tilted and are occasionally nodding, can indicate to the other person whether they have your undivided attention or not. So, watch out for negative visual cues

Watch your tone of voice as well when you respond. It is not what you say but how you say it that most effectively communicates your meaning

  • Use your eyes as well as your ears. Observe the speaker’s non-verbal cues too. You can learn a lot from their body language and vocal qualities. From their posture, gestures, eye contact and facial expressions, pauses and pace of speaking, you can gain understanding of their attitude, emotions and intentions; for example, are they nervous, aggressive, hiding something, worried, insincere, etc. You will also be able to read between the lines and hear what they are not saying
  • Paraphrase what you have heard. Paraphrasing or summarizing has two outcomes: to check your understanding as well as convey to the speaker that you have been listening actively
  • Ask specific and relevant questions to understand or clarify what is not clear, eliminating the risk of a communication breakdown or time-wasting.
  • Suspend judgment or evaluation until you have heard and assessed everything. This will enable you to respond rather than react.

Clearly, there are many benefits to be gained from active listening. First of all, listening helps to develop a positive team spirit. A manager who listens, cares. And caring for team members is one of the most valued traits in a manager to create trust and rapport.

Secondly, listening skills aid in understanding not just the message, but also the messenger. When perfected, these skills enable a manager to discern the intentions, mindset and feelings of their team members – an invaluable skill for effective team management.

Thirdly, active listening makes it easier when it is your turn to speak. Your counterpart will be more open if they feel they have been heard – vital if you need to influence or persuade.

Successful listening skills are driven by a genuine desire to listen, understand and respond. Effective managers don’t tell, they communicate, and listening forms a crucial element of excellent communication.