As a leader, listening may be one of the most important skills you can develop. Listening and understanding, however, are two different things. This is further complicated by the fact that we often believe we understand things that we do not. Here are three tips to help leaders build effective listening skills.

Do not speak until the other person has fully finished speaking

Many times, when we begin to talk about a problem or issue, we don’t truly understand how another person feels. Sometimes, in the process of talking about it, we discover that what the person is saying is not what we initially thought they were saying. All too often, busy managers want to get to the problem so it can be quickly addressed and they can move on. However, if they don’t give their subordinate time to get to the issue at heart, they may end up fixing a problem that in the end doesn’t exist. As time-consuming as it may be to sit and listen to someone working through a problem, it is far less time consuming than fixing a problem that doesn’t exist only to find the original issue still lingering.

Note-taking for practice

It is natural when you sit and listen to someone for your mind to wander. One of the best ways of combating this is to take notes. Not only will this help keep your mind from wandering, but it can also help ensure you understand what the other person is saying. Be careful not to seem as if you are ignoring what is being said. Maintain eye contact, respond, and let the person talking know before that you are practicing better listening.

Clarify to be sure you understood

Even though you may be speaking with someone whose first language is English, what words mean in particular cultural contexts can mean something very different in others. This is one reason why taking notes can be essential. Before you answer or address a person’s problem, issue, complaint, concern or question, take the time to reflect back to them what you believe they are saying. You may find that it what you understood is different from what was meant. Hearing is not the same as understanding, so make sure to clarify along the way.

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