For some, managing others is a welcomed challenge and a true calling but for others, it’s a chore and a cavernous time suck. There are many facets to managing employees but todays focus is on coaching and when it comes to this skillset, the divide grows greater. The reason for this gap lies squarely on their shoulders or should I say ears and their ability to listen to their people versus just “hearing” them.

I am referring to a specific type of listening. Not the type of listening that involves a lot of “aha..,yes…I see…gotcha” but the type of listening where one pays close attention and listens for the content and context simultaneously. This article will break down the following:

  • Why listening is a critical component to success
  • The difference between listening and hearing
  • The benefits of developing your listening skills

NOTE: For the sake of this article, I am not using the term “coaching” in the context of a certified and trained coach but rather using the basic fundamentals of coaching to improve employee performance.

I have been working with, and developing leaders for the better half of my professional career and I can see and say without any hesitation that honing your listening skills is vital if not critical to being successful. We live in a world that is evolving so fast and since we are always on the go, what used to be considered conventional conversational exchanges has transformed to 140 characters or less with a variety of emoji’s leaving much to the imagination. That said, when you do have the opportunity to speak with someone live (and preferably in person), the ability to listen and “get” the other person is invaluable to both your employee and yourself.

The Importance Of Listening To Others

Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. It’s how we make sense of, assess, and respond to what we hear. Listening is key to all effective communication. Without the ability to listen effectively, communication erodes, a breakdown general ensues and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated. Listening is a “soft skill” that is embedded into the most relevant qualifications employers look for in candidates. According to a Fast Company article which cited a 2014 Multi-Generational Job Search Study, employers in today’s modern workplace are looking for:

  • Communication skills and “emotional intelligence”
  • Solving problems
  • Positive attitude and ability to work in a team
  • Being dependable and getting the job done
  • Coaching coworkers
  • Being creative and innovative
  • Developing new work processes
  • Taking initiative

It goes on to say that: one quality that all of these have in common is listening, specifically active listening. Active listening involves being present in every conversation you have. Listening with undivided attention communicates respect for the person with whom you are speaking. 

Listening Versus Hearing

Many people (not just leaders) confuse great hearing and memory for actual listening. It’s a common mistake the dupes one into thinking they are actually present and able to coach someone. The truth is, listening and hearing are so different that it’s going to require some unpacking.

  • Listening is defined as the learned skill, in which we can receive sounds through ears, and transform them into meaningful messages. To put simply, it is the process of diligently hearing and interpreting the meaning of words and sentences spoken by the speaker, during the conversation.
  • Hearing is the natural ability or an inborn trait that allows us to recognize sound through ears by catching vibrations is called the hearing. In simple terms, it is one of the five senses; that makes us aware of the sound. It is an involuntary process, whereby a person receives sound vibrations, continuously.

The styles and methods of listening run the gamut but a popular one when it comes to coaching others is called “active listening” which requires concentration and presence with the other individual. Active listening is a key element in making the communication process effective. Regardless of the style, the process of listening involves five stages: receiving, understanding, evaluating, remembering, and responding. An effective leader and listener must hear and identify what’s being said toward them, understand the content while evaluating or assessing the message and respond (either verbally or nonverbally) to the other individual. A process that happens rather fast but fear not, here is an excellent chart which further explains the differences:

The Benefits Of Better Listening Skills

Regardless if you’re coaching another person, honing your listening skills will pay dividends in and out of the workplace. Some of the benefits include but are not limited to:

  • Expands capacity and knowledge
  • Intensifies successful conversation
  • Can save time and money
  • Allows better negotiations terms
  • Helps to detect and solve problems quickly
  • Promotes respect and trust
  • Provides new points of view and perspectives
  • You might learn something yourself
  • Create stronger bonds and relationships
  • Builds patience and tolerance

To help you get started, this Forbes article lays out six ways in which you can begin engaging with your people.

Final thoughts: Regardless of whether you are a leader coaching an employee or simply someone looking to support a friend or loved one – listening will always be the foundation for a successful outcome. I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “Speak in such a way that other love to listen to you. Listen in such a way that others love to speak to you.”

The floor is yours: How do you hone your listening skills?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.

With leadership,

Joshua /

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