Listen up! Are you really hearing what they’re saying?

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Issue: Strong listening skills are vital when handling sensitive personnel issues.

Benefit: You'll enhance your reputation among employees and the top brass as a problem-solver.

Action: Practice the techniques below to sharpen your listening skills.

Whether you're handling employee complaints or meeting with your boss, effective listening skills are essential to your career success. But research shows that most of us are ineffective listeners, missing huge chunks of important information during conversations. Luckily, with a conscious effort, you can improve your listening skills. Start by practicing these six techniques:

1. Curb your bias. When someone who's angry enters your office, it's easy to allow the person's body language and voice tone, as well as your prior dealings with the person, to predispose you to think, "Uh-oh; here she goes again," or "This guy is a real pain!" That, in turn shuts off your ability to listen objectively. Curb that bias by taking a deep breath and thinking, "Listen for the facts."

2. Give the person your full attention. Drop whatever you're doing and establish eye contact. Show the person that you understand what he or she is saying by nodding occasionally. Prompt the person to continue by saying "Yes" or "Go on."

3. Ask questions to clarify. Make sure you understand each point the person is trying to make.

4. Pause before answering. It's natural to start forming your answers while the other person is still talking. But that almost ensures that you'll miss important information, because your brain is busy formulating your comeback and not processing the new information that's coming in. Fight that urge, and wait until the person has stopped speaking for a full five seconds before you offer your input.

5. Restate the problem in your own words. Example: "As I understand it, you feel ... ." That ensures that you've understood what's bothering the employee.

6. State what you will do. If you see an immediate solution to the employee's problem, offer it only after you've listened fully and asked questions to obtain all necessary information. But don't be afraid to sometimes say, "Let me think that over and get back to you with an answer" if the situation warrants.

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