Ten Plus One Tips for Active Listening
- Listen with body, mind and spirit: Give the speaker 100% of your attention. Clear the decks; block out the distractions; and, hold the calls.
- Read non-verbal cues: Learn to read the subtle signals that show enthusiasm, commitment, doubt, discomfort or any other emotion that may be interfering with the communication.
- Listen objectively: Partial information plus your own biases interfere with your ability to listen. Avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly. Allow the speaker to make his/her point.
- Look at each conversation as a learning opportunity: Everyone you meet and talk to has something to teach you. Look to see what you can take away from each interaction.
- Assess what you are hearing: Focus your energy so that you can continue to listen while you begin to evaluate what you're hearing.
- Ask questions and paraphrase: As the listener, take responsibility for understanding the message clearly and accurately. Ask questions or paraphrase what you think you have heard to avoid misunderstandings.
- Encourage the speaker: Consciously practice body language that says; “I am listening”. For example: nod your head, smile, lean towards the speaker.
- Acknowledge what the speaker is saying: Use words and phrases to acknowledge the speaker and what the speaker is saying, and to encourage the speaker to continue.
- Maintain eye contact: Connect with the speaker through eye contact. To avoid making the speaker feel uncomfortable, break your eye contact by glancing at the speaker's chin or cheek.
- Manage your emotions: When emotions take control, you stop listening and start reacting. Put your ego on hold while you listen.
PLUS ONE: Take notes but not dictation: Taking notes can be a sign that you value what the speaker is saying. However, don’t try to write down every word or you risk losing the quality of the dialogue.
Ten Plus One Tips for Facilitating Effective Meetings
- Do Your Homework: Make sure you know who is going to be at the meeting. Research each person’s view of the topic and understand his or her point of view. If necessary, call members ahead of time to introduce yourself and find out what their “hot” issues are.
- Clarify Your Objective: Take the time to clarify exactly what the group needs or wants to achieve. At the start of the meeting, make sure that all members are in agreement about the objective.
- Be clear about your role: Facilitator roles vary. Sometimes you might be a subject matter expert in addition to facilitating the group. On other occasions, you may simply be acting as an independent process facilitator. Know which role you are expected to play.
- Plan an interesting opening: Plan an opening that sets a positive tone for the meeting. A quick story, some light humor or an interesting fact or statistic will help rally the group to the task at hand. A good opening will also enhance your credibility as a facilitator.
- Plan how you will kick-start the discussion: Prepare several well-thought-out questions that will engage people in the conversation. Use open-ended questions (What, Why, How and Where) to encourage input from the group.
- Suggest some ground rules: Help the group to set its own rules of conduct. Effective groups often set a “no interruptions” rule or adopt a courtesy code that allows each person to finish speaking before someone else begins.
- Mirror, mirror, on the wall: If your group becomes bogged down, act as a mirror to help them see what is going on. Take a time-out and say, “Here’s what I see happening in our process…”. Once people have a clear view of why their process is not working, they can take positive steps to fix it.
- Handle conflict assertively and quickly: Once conflict surfaces, it rarely goes away by itself. Your task as a facilitator is to defuse tension so that it does not block the group. Stay positive and courteous at all times and help the members manage their emotions.
- Encourage participation from all: Find ways to include reluctant or shy members in the discussion. Structured rounds, paired discussions and brainstorming in sub-groups can help more timid members contribute effectively.
- Decide how to collect group data: Pre-plan how you will collect opinions or reach decisions. Private or public voting, decision matrices, T-charts or decision quadrants are helpful ways to move the group towards consensus.
PLUS ONE: Have fun and celebrate your successes: Group meetings can often be tiring and frustrating. Remember to celebrate what the group has achieved rather than what it has not. Be sure people leave the meeting with a sense that their time and energy were valued.
Ten Plus One Personal Leadership Tips for Meeting Leaders
- Show up on time: In fact, arriving 15 minutes early for a meeting is a good habit to acquire. You will have the time to make a personal connection with team members.
- Keep your promises: People with high personal leadership profiles are known for doing what they say they are going to do.
- Show appreciation: Old-fashioned it may be. But saying “please” and “thank you” for special efforts – particularly in front of the whole team - goes a long well to helping team performance.
- Dress well: Whether the situation calls for business or casual attire, make sure you look good. Credibility and personal appearance have a strong correlation.
- Take time to lower relationship tensions: When relationship tension is high at the start of a meeting, real progress towards the team goal cannot be made. Investing even a few minutes at the start of a meeting in social conversation, information sharing, humor or introductions will pay off handsomely.
- Be fully present: Develop the habit of screening out all other distractions, worries or projects while you are leading a meeting. Give 100% attention to both the content of the conversations and the interactions among team members.
- Hone those listening skills: Make a commitment to yourself to pay attention to your listening skills. Ask your peers for feedback on your listening habits; then you’ll know where to focus your listening efforts.
- Be a “thought starter”: Develop the ability to ask thought-provoking questions that will challenge your team to think big, think conceptually and think creatively. Become known for asking “what if” questions.
- Stay cool under fire: If tempers become frayed and you experience personal attack, detach yourself emotionally while staying intellectually tuned in to what is going on. This is a high level skill used by top mediators. It will help you manage your stress and allow you to facilitate the group to a positive outcome.
- Manage your personal energy: When leading long or difficult meetings, be sure that you keep your mind and body in shape. Rest, exercise, good nutrition and plenty of breaks are the recipe for success.
PLUS ONE: Walk your talk. Be a positive role model. Be sure to follow the ground rules as set by the team. Practice those behaviors you want to see in your team. If you want respect, show it to others. If you want to be heard without being interrupted, be prepared to listen to others.