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Supporting line managers: are you listening to me? 

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Supporting line managers: are you listening to me? 

It’s widely acknowledged that line managers are key to engagement and motivation. As internal communicators, coaching managers to become better communicators is therefore a fundamental function. And this support must extend not only to what they say, but how they listen too.

These suggestions for encouraging two-way dialogue and improving listening skills will help to make your managers stronger, more effective communicators.

According to the book, Internal communications by Liam Fitzpatrick and Klavs Valskov, line managers are not always successful at fulfilling their role because they lack the confidence and the skills to do so. Managers are expected to give employees a voice, encourage open dialogue and feed their comments back up the organisation. But without the skills to encourage the sharing of opinions and information and then listen to the responses, are they truly hearing what employees have to say?

If we’re to support line managers with every element of communication, we need to help them get to grips with the tricky subject of hearing what they’re being told….

Respect the moment, pay attention

The beauty of the line manager/employee relationship is the opportunity for face-to-face comms to take place. But with constant competing distractions, are these moments always captured effectively?

It sounds obvious that we need to pay attention when we listen but the buzz of technology and a busy brain are more than enough to distract us. So encourage managers to pay attention during conversations. Ensure they’re in a comfortable environment, somewhere they can focus, not a busy canteen or office, remove all distractions such as phones and laptops and face the person they’re talking.

Listen to understand, not to answer

It’s tempting to start forming and polishing your response or answering questions in your head rather than listening to what’s being said. Encourage managers to avoid thinking about how to reply when employees are speaking. This will take practice, it’s something we’re all guilty of doing, but it will greatly improve the value of conversations.

Monkey see, monkey do

We’re not suggesting any monkey business here, this is about mirroring behaviour to encourage positive emotions.

Through extensive research, neuroscientists discovered mirror neurons in the brains of monkeys. Those mirror neurons are what cause monkeys to mimic each other.

According to Mark Goulston in his book, ‘Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone’ it’s not only monkeys that mimic. ‘We’re constantly mirroring those around us, recognising, acknowledging, and reciprocating the feelings and emotions of the individuals we’re engaged with.’

Line managers can make strong connections with employees and set off positive emotions to encourage open dialogue by practising mirroring their behaviours and emotions.

Show vulnerability, be human too

One of the most challenging parts of becoming a good communicator is accepting and demonstrating vulnerability. Used wisely, vulnerability can be a powerful tool: when you show vulnerable emotions, like concern or fear, you give others the chance to connect and respond.

Demonstrating vulnerability relates closely to mirroring. Others can only mirror what you let them see, so if you hide emotions, you will never be properly understood. By encouraging managers to show that they’re human too, and demonstrating elements of vulnerability to encourage others to do the same, they’ll earn mutual trust and openness from employees.

Demonstrate genuine interest in others

People love to talk about themselves, it’s human nature. Managers can use this to their advantage. When we show real interest in others we make them feel valuable, bringing the dialogue to a deeper level and encouraging them to open up. By asking questions about their weekend, their families or their interests, they might just find some mutual connections too.

Remember what they’ve said and follow up on the conversation later to help prove that they’ve listened. This will have a powerful and memorable impact.

Listen with empathy

When we introduce empathy, we can take listening to another level. Henry Ford once said that if there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put oneself in another person’s place, seeing things from his or her point of view.

This article by HBR explains how leaders can listen with more empathy. It describes the steps involved in empathetic listening; understanding non verbal cues, capturing key messages and being an effective responder. Bringing these three elements together will help to build trust and respect. It will enable people to reveal their emotions and help openness of information sharing.

The power of the pause

It can be tempting, particularly when we’re nervous or uncomfortable to talk too much. Encourage managers to remember that it’s okay to be brief when conveying information and then observe their listener’s reactions while speaking. It’s also important to just pause.

According to self-development author Brian Tracy, “all excellent listeners are masters of the pause. They are comfortable with silences. When the other person finishes speaking, they take a breath, relax and smile before saying anything. They know that the pause is a key part of good communications.” By pausing, line managers will avoid interrupting employees and allowing them to speak, taking a moment to consider their words and understanding what is being said with greater efficiency.

Reflect, digest, clarify

Paraphrasing is an effective way of checking understanding and achieving greater clarity. It is also used to show you’ve been listening and thinking about what is being said.

When managers take a moment to pause they can think about their response to show a considered approach and write down key phrases to aid their paraphrasing. Then use their own words to check understanding and review the conversation.

Listening is one of those life skills that takes practice. The more you work at it, the better you will become. And with some gentle prompting, we can help line managers to develop their communication skills and better understand our employees.

We help communicators share advice with line managers in all sorts of ways, from exploratory workshops to handy pocket guides and toolkits. If you’d like to chat through some options with us we’ll be happy to help.

Further reading on line manager support:

Supporting line managers: 5 pearls of wisdom to inspire better comms 

Five ways that you can support your line managers’ development as skilled communicators.

Supporting line managers: cascade confidence, not communications

Comms are often created in a cascadable form to make life ‘easier’, but in reality they become regurgitated words that lack any form of sentiment or spirit. How to make sure that organisations are full of great communicators, not message regurgitators.

Supporting line managers: nurturing the chimp within

Supporting managers by observing, coaching and gently developing the subtle nuances that make all the difference to successful, confident communication and well-informed, contented chimps.


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