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6 ways to perfect the art of ‘active listening’

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Adam Holden, Growth Explorer for Winning Pitch, offers some top tips on becoming a better leader through active listening.

Most people have heard the phrase “two ears, one mouth”, implying that we should listen twice as much as we speak. I work with new businesses and a big part of what I do is finding out about what they do, how they got to where they are, and why they decided that starting a business was for them.

Becoming a better listener is therefore vital. Active listening is something which is often mentioned in counseling circles and seen as a way of helping someone with a problem to talk about the problem. I use active listening to help diagnose and hopefully find a resolution for perceived gaps in business knowledge. Anyone can use active listening and it’s a great tool for business owners and leaders in helping themselves and others within their organisation to solve problems.

Here’s my top tips.

  1. Ask open questions: A conversation where one person constantly says yes or no is not a productive one. In my case, I would ask things like “what stage are you at with your business?” rather than “are you an existing business?” or “where do you see your business being in a few years’ time?”. The first question allows for expansion of the conversation.
  2. Summarise: Saying things back to the person you are talking to shows you are listening and you understand what they’ve said. Using tip one as an example, you would say “so you’ve been trading for 12-months and you need advice around business planning is that right?”.
  3. Reflect: You can mirror the words they use. If a client says “I’ve been struggling with doing my business plan” you could reply with “yes it can be a struggle figuring out how much detail to put in there when you aren’t sure of where you see yourself”.
  4. Clarify: Simply saying “Tell me more” is a great way to keep the conversation going, so in my case I could say “tell me which stage you are at with doing your business plan?”.
  5. Encourage: You can use short prompts of “go on” and “I see” this will help move the conversation along. Don’t worry if the conversation goes quiet at this point, quiet times shows that the person you are talking to is processing what you’ve said.
  6. React: In this case, I’d remind the person that starting a business isn’t easy and that they are in the right place. That there is support out there for them to get them to and beyond where they want to go with their business idea.

The Growth Support Programme helps Lancashire businesses that have been trading for less than three years to achieve their growth aspirations, by providing credible tailored and expert business growth support – delivered face to face by experienced growth specialists.


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