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When was the last time you approached a conflict expecting to do more listening than talking? Author Stephen Covey reminds us that, "Most people don't listen to understand, they listen with the intent to reply." Strong communication skills are critical to any organization, but listening skills in particular are vital to managers who can use them to establish feedback loops that improve operations.

Effective listening techniques teach us to both fully hear and freely respond to others. They are paramount for successful relationships, both between managers and subordinates, and throughout the organization.

The Importance of the Feedback Loop

To ensure that things are done right, the first time, managers need to provide subordinate managers with the appropriate information up front. You also need to create a feedback loop to allow them to describe their understanding of a particular project and what it means to them. Some of the topics they may address are:

  • How will they approach the task?
  • What are some of the problems they might face with respect to resources and time?
  • How does the delegation fit with other priorities?

The success of these feedback loops between managers and subordinate managers depends on the strength of both sides' listening skills.

Listening Is a Two-Way Street

Effective communication isn't as simple as passing on the right information to subordinate managers: As part of your managerial accountability, you must ensure your directives have been understood. Within a feedback loop, managers must listen to their subordinates with the intent to understand. Failure to do so may lead managers to miss out on relevant points that could affect project outcome.

Subordinate managers may handle their role in feedback loops in different ways: some will be quick to communicate progress or concern, while others may opt to soldier on in silence. Effective listening for upper managers, then, requires proactively ensuring that the other people in the feedback loop are asking the right questions and that they feel free to provide feedback of their own.

Cross-Functional Relationships and Listening

"One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears - by listening to them." - Dean Ruske

Listening skills and feedback loops can also be considered within peer-to-peer relationships. Although you may be adept at sharing information within your peer group, you also must listen to your peer managers in other parts of the organization. Bearing this in mind, consider how well you provide them with information regarding your work. More importantly, how well are you listening to them and the issues they face?

In successful cross-functional relationships, it is as important to communicate requirements effectively as it is to understand what others believe are the implications of trying to meet these requirements.

Even within a framework of clear accountability and authority, managers inevitably rely on the output of others to establish harmonious relationships across the organization. That requires giving peers information about your work, but also understanding their work.

One of the best ways to get people to pitch in, in the way you want and at the time you need, is to listen to them and understand their situation. If you understand their position, and how their assistance will affect you and them, you'll both be better placed to achieve mutual success.


Larry Hart

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