One of the biggest mistakes you can make in business is to stop listening. You can get great insight from many people, but some of the people who have the most to tell you are your employees. They're typically closest to your customers and operations and may see flaws in your business, and even the first signs of impending doom, before you do.
But communications with employees are often a complete disaster. Employers are sure they've created open channels of communication and don't recognize when employees are keeping silent or simply saying what they think someone wants to hear. Harvard Business Review has suggestions on how to really listen to your employees. I've added an additional point to come up with seven tips for improving your listening skills.
1. Recognize that employees may know what they're doing
The single biggest problem I've seen among executives, managers, and entrepreneurs is the assumption that no one "beneath them" could have anything valuable to say. There are those who will succeed in the face of such arrogance, but any such stories you might have heard are likely outweighed by the legions of others who come to nothing. No one accomplishes much of anything without a lot of help, and to dismiss the experience and insights of others because they're not in charge of the business is smug and stupid.
2. Prioritize listening
Ensure that listening is something that you will do. That means that not only do you create mechanisms for employees to catch your attention and block out time to listen to them, but when you're with employees, you actually do listen.
3. Be aware of your limitations
To make yourself listen, you have to know what about you will either miss what others say or shut them down. Ask others if you have mannerisms that say, "Don't tell me what I don't want to know." Let employees get their point out, and don't interject or interrupt because you are certain you already know what they're going to say. Even if it turns out that you do, there may be subtleties in their views that you won't guess ahead of time.
4. Stay focused
Ever get irritated because people don't pay attention to you as you talk? (If you have teenagers, the answer is probably yes.) Don't do the same to your employees. Turn off the phone. Shut down the tablet. Look at the employee. Put your energy into the person on the other side of your desk.
5. Watch the body language
Posture and gestures are powerful tools of communication, if you pay attention. Learn some common cues that indicate someone is upset or unreceptive or excited. You can always ask the employee about the cues and how they're responding to a situation.
6. Keep cool and collected
An incredibly difficult act for many of us is to sit back, hear what someone says, and avoid reaction. Sharply reacting or disagreeing is a great way to tell employees that you really aren't interested in listening. Suppress the internal Tasmanian Devil and let the details sink in.
7. Be sure you got it
Listening isn't a passive skill. Work to get below the surface and understand what they're saying. Take notes and ask questions. Repeat your understanding of what they said, and be sure you are correct.
You won't agree with everything your employees say. But listening will broaden your view of your own business and make you a more effective manager...and human being.