Developing Interpersonal Skills

Would it surprise you to know that more managers are probably fired because of poor interpersonal skills than for a lack of technical ability? Moreover a survey of top executives at Fortune 500 companies found that interpersonal skills were the most important consideration in hiring senor level employees. Because managers ultimately get things done through others, competencies in leadership communication and other interpersonal skills are prerequisites to managerial effectiveness.

Why are active listening skills important?

The ability to listen is too often taken for granted because we tend to confuse hearing with listening. Listening requires paying attention interpreting and remembering sound stimuli.

Effective listening is active rather than passive. In passive listening, you resemble a tape recorder. You absorb and remember the words spoken if the speaker provides you with a clear message and makes his or her delivery interesting enough to keep your attention, you’ll probably hear most of what the speaker is trying to communicate. Active listening requires you to get inside the speaker’s mind to understand the communication from his or her point of view. As you will see, active listening is hard work. You have to concentrate and you have to want to fully understand what a speaker is saying. Students who use active listening techniques for an entire 75 minute lecture are as tired as their instructor when the lecture is over because they have put as much energy into listening as the instructor put into speaking.

Active listening requires four essential elements: (1) intensity (2) empathy (3) acceptance (4) a willingness to take responsibility for completeness. As noted the human brain is capable of handing a speaking rate that is about six times as fast as that of the average speaker leaving a lot of time for day dreaming. The active listener concentrates intensely on what the speaker is saying and tunes out the thousands of miscellaneous thoughts (about money, sex, vacation, parties, exams, and so on) that cerate distractions. What do active listeners do with their idle brain time? They summarize and integrate what has been said. They put each new bit of information into the context of what preceded it.

Empathy requires you to put yourself into the speaker’s shoes. You try to understand what the speaker wants to communicate rather than what you want to hear. Notice that empathy demands both knowledge of the speaker and flexibility on your part you need to suspend your own thoughts and feelings and adjust what you see and feel to your speaker’s world. In that way, you increase the likelihood that you’ll interpret the message in the way the speaker intended

An active listener demonstrates acceptance. He or she listens objectively without judging content, which is not an easy task. It’s natural to be distracted by what a speaker says, especially when we disagree with it. When we hear something we disagree with, we have a tendency to begin formulating your mental arguments to counter what is being said. Of course in doing so, we miss the rest of the message. The challenge for the active listener is to absorb what’s being said and withhold judgment on content until the speaker is finished.

The final ingredient of active listening is taking responsibility for completeness. That is, the listener does whatever is necessary to get the full intended meaning from the speaker’s communication. Two widely used active listening techniques are listening for feelings as well as for content and asking questions to ensure understanding.

Just now, though can you develop effective listening skills? The literature on active listening emphasizes eight specific behaviors. As you review these behaviors ask yourself whether they describe your listening practices. If you’re not currently using these techniques there’s no better time than right now to begin developing them.

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