Learn the three levels of listening plus strategies to stay present and minimize distraction in your coaching conversations.
- From the time you start school as a small child to the time you finish your degree studies and beyond, you're trying to have the right answer. So it's no wonder when you start managing people that your knee-jerk reaction is to be decisive and give direction. These are powerful skills. The challenge is, that in our everyday conversations, we're so full of preconceived ideas about what people are saying and what we think people mean and where we think the conversation is headed. We're listening for what we want to hear and filtering things through our opinions and biases and we're waiting for a space to interject our perspective. Now coaching requires a whole different kind of listening. So let's say you have a report who's super challenged by time management issues and burdened by tons of email. As a result, he's missing deadlines and reacting irritably to new requests. Now, as his manager you might think the solution is simple. He just needs a couple of focused hours to clean things up, purge his inbox, and make daily to do lists. So you give him a little direction and off he goes. But that kind of fix comes from listening from the outside in. The solution may work temporarily but your employee's being directed, not empowered. And it also means that you're doing the work of generating that solution. So instead of listening followed by direction giving, you want to listen to find the next right question. You want your people to be able to source themselves for answers, not you. So here are five strategies to improve your listening. First, be present and focus on the other person. When you're sitting down face to face you're objective is to clear your mind, set aside your own to do list, and make yourself present and available. That's your goal. Next, minimize distraction by closing your door and turning off ringers and alerts. Take a moment to unplug and focus. And three, give cues that you're listening. Now we do this verbally by saying things like uh huh, um hmm, and yes and through body language by nodding and smiling occasionally. Fourth, mirror what you hear. Again, our assumptions and judgements can cloud what we think we hear so your role is to understand what's really being said. Saying things like what I'm hearing is, or it sounds like you're saying are excellent starts to getting clarity. Now finally, turn directive statements into powerful, open-ended questions. When you feel you're about to give advice, direction, or offer criticism, pause. Then start your sentence with what or how and improvise your way through the question. Again you're not gathering information so you can offer a solution, you're listening so you can find an open-ended question that helps your people find the best solution. So let's close with this power tip. Listening and question-asking go hand in hand. So when you find yourself cutting to the chase and problem solving for your employee, say to yourself, WAIT. And that stands for Why Am I Talking? That way you can redirect yourself. Ask an open-ended question and turn things back over to your people.
- Recall methods for probing deeper in conversations with employees.
- Determine which aspect of a challenge to avoid when determining the challenge an employee can undertake.
- Recognize questions that generate the greatest number of ideas during a brainstorming session.
- Explain the advantage of using focused feedback with an employee.
- Identify the potential benefits of listening and using open-ended questions with an employee who is unhappy with her or her job.