A healthy rapport with staff is critical to good leadership and good workplace outcomes. Building good rapport from day one provides the foundation necessary when critical conversations are necessary to launch a product, address a concern or clarify an objective. When employees walk into your office or meeting area knowing you are invested in the relationship they share with you to accomplish organizational goals and objectives as a team, the chances of a successful and productive interaction are significant.
Active listening is a popular topic of training for managers eager to build rapport and engage in meaningful conversations at work. By most definitions, active listening involves setting aside conflicting or distracting elements from a conversation and devoting one’s full attention to the person or persons in front of you.
But active listening is more than just “good listening.” Active listening involves three phases of engagement: listening, understanding and response.
Most managers understand the basic ideas of listening and response, but rarely spend time considering the importance of actively engaging in a process of understanding what is being conveyed by the other person.
Active understanding is a simple but effective method for ensuring that your active listening will translate into an appropriate action or response as a leader.
Here are four distinct steps necessary for active understanding
- Pause. This means, don’t be afraid to let a pause exist between what someone is saying and your response. Take time to process what you have heard. In a culture where silence is not so easily acceptable (or downright awkward), an appropriate initial comment may be simply, “Okay, this is clearly an important conversation so let me think about this for a moment before I reply, because I want to be helpful.”
- Review. Ask yourself quietly: What was just said? Did I capture the essence of what is being conveyed? Was it all clear and understandable or do I need clarification? What are the key points of their message I need to stay focused on right now? If you find you need clarification or refocus, ask for it before going any further.
- Reflect. At the heart of this four-step process is making sense of what is being conveyed and putting it into meaningful context for whatever is being asked of you. What is the individual truly looking for in terms of a response? Are you being asked to make a decision, render an opinion, offer advice or just listen? What else needs to be considered before a response can be formulated?
- Rephrase. Rephrasing is a process of ensuring that your review and reflection have not led you astray. Once you have reflected sufficiently and have captured the essence of what is being conveyed, offer your summation and ask, “Did I understand you correctly?” This is an important part of ensuring your response to the individual is both appropriate and productive.
If you receive confirmation you’ve understood the other person well and have captured the critical points of the message, you can proceed with formulating an appropriate response. If not, seek clarification, restatement or some other means of ensuring you do understand what is being conveyed to you.
Active understanding is just as important as every other aspect of active listening in meaningful conversations at work. Without good understanding of what is being said or asked of you as the manager, active listening can be as equally ineffective as passive listening.