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Three tips to improve your listening skills

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MANAGING

The executive guide to listening

Danger ahead: Executive not listening. A road sign similar to that might be useful for the corridors of a company where senior managers view conversation as one-way affairs, and refuse to listen to others.

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"Listening is a valuable skill that most executives spend little time cultivating," consultant Bernard Ferrari writes in the McKinsey Quarterly.

To improve, he says, focus on three elements:

1. Show respect: To run a complex organization, you must solicit advice from all corners. Let everyone know that you are open to their viewpoints. Being respectful doesn't mean avoiding tough questions; good listeners routinely ask them to uncover the information they need. "The goal is ensuring the free and open flow of information and ideas," he writes.

2. Keep quiet: Your conversation partner should be speaking 80 per cent of the time while you limit yourself to about 20 per cent. To make your speaking time count, ask questions that point the other party in the right direction. "That's easier said than done, of course – most executives are naturally inclined to speak their minds. Still, you can't really listen if you're too busy talking."

3. Challenge assumptions: Good listeners seek to understand and challenge the assumptions beneath the surface of the conversation. Take a tip from baseball manager Earl Weaver, who titled his autobiography It's What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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