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Nigel Walpole A sixth sense for managers?

Managers often say they need a sixth sense when it comes to managing people; some describe it as emotional intelligence, some describe it as ‘gut feel’.

It’s certainly intangible and it can be elusive, but perhaps here is the answer.

During my research for our forthcoming webinar on Agile Working, I was talking to a senior manager working in such an environment. I asked her what she felt was the most important skill for ‘agile’ managers and I must admit her response surprised me.

Without much hesitation, she said,

“It’s definitely listening. Way back in the early days of my career, I worked in a contact centre and there I learnt how to truly listen, it’s a skill that really helps me today.”

A sixth sense for managers

Once I stopped and thought about it, it made perfect sense. A lot of communication in an agile working environment takes place at a distance. Sometimes this is at times that are not perfectly convenient for both parties, and often it is from locations that are not conducive for clear communication.

The more you think about agile working environments, with their characteristic communication challenges - changing workplaces, potentially unfamiliar equipment, irregular contact, divergent working styles – the more it becomes obvious how important really good listening skills are.

In the light of this, I thought these top tips would help anyone who works in an agile environment, or, in fact, anyone who deals with others in any form.

  1. Stay focused – concentrate on what your caller is saying and don’t be distracted by external noises. Eliminate the distractions you can – on screen perhaps.
  2. Make the caller ‘feel welcomed’ - put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  3. Listening is not the time for multi-tasking - you simply cannot do two things well at once.
  4. Detect emotions - listen to the emotion in your colleague’s voice. Does it match the words they are using?
  5. Ask questions - gain more information on points you need to clarify.
  6. Don’t interrupt – everyone listens more effectively when they’re not talking. Let them finish what they are saying.
  7. Avoid anticipating what your colleague is going to say - you are likely to be wrong.
  8. Use ‘verbal’ nods to show you are listening.
  9. Summarise key facts.
  10. Have a pen and paper to hand and make notes.
  11. Ask them to repeat if necessary.
  12. Don’t make assumptions – keep an open mind.
  13. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking automatically, I’m right and the other person is wrong.
  14. Remember you don’t have to provide help right away – take time to think if you need to.
  15. Use silence - avoid jumping in with a response.

And don’t forget to keep practising…

As my interviewee commented, listening – rather than simply hearing - provides huge benefits.

“I have seen some managers struggle in this environment, especially at the start, whilst others just seem to be able to do it and I believe this simple but vitally important skill is what makes the difference.

 “I can identify deeper needs of my staff, I can establish good relationships with them, the likelihood of misunderstandings, tensions and conflict is reduced, we solve problems together, we’re happier and more productive. Agile managers mustn’t rely on hunches or guesswork, really listeninggives you that ‘sixth sense’ which is vital in this environment.”

I hope this is helpful and interesting. As I said, I’ll be delivering a webinar on Agile Working soon, so please keep an eye out for that as well, as other blogs in this series.

If you’d like to talk about how we can help you create and manage Agile working environments, please give us a call.

Nigel Walpole

Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

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