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In business, as in all areas of life, conversations need to have a direction rather than just drifting along. They also need to facilitate effective communication both ways.


To ensure a good conversation, there is one primary consideration – both parties need to ensure their own message is understood by the other and that the direction of the communication is properly controlled. The key learning point being you must learn to listen as well as speak!

This is extremely important for your effectiveness as a manager. Failure to develop the skill of listening could mean you may not hear the information essential to your understanding of the purpose of the conversation and which could make the difference, for instance, between winning or losing a contract.

How many times during your working week do you find yourself in a situation where you feel you have communicated an important issue adequately, but subsequently find that the other party did not, in fact, understand the message?

Listening is a social skill and can be acquired.

• Paying attention

Active listening means paying full attention to whoever is talking to you and retaining what it is that they are saying. Unfortunately, much of our communication today is reduced to abbreviated text messages, headlines or soundbites, making it difficult to focus our minds on someone else and what it is that they are saying.

You may possibly have various reasons for not listening attentively – it may be you are too busy, not interested, or have an urgent deadline to meet. But whatever the reason, it’s important to recognise the effect a lack of attention might have and to resolve to practise your communication skills to ensure this does not have a negative impact upon your business or personal relationships.

• Be fully present

It is easy to miss important details that are being said if you don’t listen attentively – not forgetting that listening to what is not said is as equally important as to what is said.

• Actively engage

If listening attentively, you should be able to repeat back to the person an interpretation of what it is that they have tried to convey to you. Can you honestly say you always do that?

• Acceptance

Being non-judgemental and accepting the person for who they are is vital if you are to listen actively and attentively to someone else.

• Don’t assume

Assumptions can be dangerous, as you will run the risk of anticipating what it is you think the person is saying but which, in fact, they are not. To be an active listener, avoid having the answer already in your head before the person to whom you are speaking has even posed the question. Furthermore, if unsure you have understood the other party correctly, seek clarification.

• Have empathy

A core skill required for active listening is ‘empathy’, which is defined as the state of imagining yourself to be ‘in the shoes’ of the other person, and therefore sharing his or her ideas and feelings. It has also been called ‘the ability to experience another person’s world as if it were your own’.

Empathy is about being sensitive, at any given time, to the changing experience of the other person; understanding and sharing but not judging the other person’s situation.

Warmth and acceptance are crucial in establishing relationships with others. You need to demonstrate you respect the person for what they are, for their uniqueness and individuality, and that you also accept that they, like you, have faults – that’s human nature!

A genuine sincerity is important for open communication to enable the person opposite you to properly understand your words. There also needs to be a correlation between what you say and your ‘body language’ that indicates a directness and openness about the way you communicate.

Furthermore, avoid trying to present an unnaturally favourable image – although we all try to impress others. Best advice is to always be yourself and you will then encourage the other person to respond in a similar manner.

Key points

• Listening is, at least, as equally important as speaking.

• Messages from both sides need to be understood.

• Engage, accept, empathise, be warm and sincere.