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The Motivational Manager's Tool Box -- Motivational Listening

by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

Did you know that you don't need to become a motivational speaker to inspire and energize your employees? To be a motivational manager?

You don't need to give pep talks. (They are useless, anyway.) You don't need to memorize performance "phrase books" to help explain your judgements. You don't need behavioral manipulation techniques.

You just need to learn to listen in an effective, active way.

Most people know what they need to do. They know what errors they've made. They know their jobs. They know what's right. They want to be fair. In fact, they want to be generous -- with their time, their performance and their productivity.

But they want to do it for a boss who is also fair. Considerate. Reasonably approving. Understanding. A boss who listens and gives authentically helpful feedback.

For that boss, studies have shown time and again, employees will perform well. Even exceedingly well. Because they will like and trust him/her. They will be motivated to work to help the boss achieve goals.

Active Listening

You've doubtlessly heard of the techniques of "active listening." You may read about them. You may have had a seminar that included demonstrations and practice in them.

Let me summarize active listening for those who need an introduction and for those who know about it but don't practice it.

Active listening is a technique that originated with Carl Rogers. A therapist, coach or manager using it simply invites the client or employee to talk about a subject and then gives the speaker his full active attention. Being actively attentive means listening to the words, analyzing and interpreting what's being said and feeding back the content -- in very brief statements -- to the speaker to be sure the interpretation is accurate. The analyzing and interpreting are non-judgmental.

The idea is that if you genuinely listen to another it is an active experience. You think about what he is saying and what it means. You let him know you are listening by waiting for natural pauses -- or even interrupting to make sure you are getting him correctly -- and saying to him what you think you are hearing. If you are misinterpreting, you get a chance to correct your understanding. If you are right, he knows you are paying close attention and respecting his concerns.

When it's well done, the speaker feels heard and believes his words have some value. He feels understood. He believes he is being given fair consideration. He is ready to listen to you and is likely to be more cooperative. He sees reasons to trust you.

Active Listening is Motivational Listening

Few managers and business owners who learn active listening learn it in any useable depth. You simply can't acquire it from a single seminar. Or a couple of chapters in a book. You need to learn, then practice a lot. Make mistakes. Learn some more. Practice a lot. And finally, make active listening simply the way you listen. Not merely a technique.

At that point, it becomes part of you.

I've found that if I call it "motivational listening," people start to understand its value from the beginning. It's not just a technique. You can learn it. You can practice it. It has principles and methods.

However, it is a skill that you must eventually adopt as a personal characteristic in order to master it. It becomes an ability.

I like to compare it to learning karate. By the time you reach black belt status in karate, you've stopped thinking about individual movements and counter-movements. You still learn and practice techniques, but you simply integrate them into the flow of your current abilities. When called upon to act, you act automatically. The knowledge has become a part of you.

Learning To Be A Motivational Listener

So, how do you begin to master the ability of motivational (active) listening?

Start with the best books. But start with the books that were written for general self-development rather than for psych majors.

Any of Thomas Gordon's books on Effectiveness Training are good, but his book "Leader Effectiveness Training" was developed especially for the workplace. (His book "Parent Effectiveness Training" was the book that finally clarified active listening for me and made it useable in my practice.) Get Leader Effectiveness Training L.E.T.: The Proven People Skills for Today's Leaders Tomorrow.

Mathew McKay, et al have a wonderful book that covers both the speaker and listener side of communications -- Messages: The Communication Skills Book

Those two books are great for both starting your skills acquisition and using as references for practicing and maintaining.

For classroom style training, you could contact the American Management Association for one of their classes, Skillpath Training also has on-site training for organizations, National Seminars Training is a reputable group, and Fred Pryor Seminars can provide fine communications skills training that includes active listening.

However, a very effective way of training yourself and others is to start an informal training support group that meets on a regular basis to discuss and practice what each of you is learning from the books above or other books you've found that work well.

As a manager, or owner of a small business with employees, you can revolutionize your relationship with your employees by choosing to use motivational listening. It is a part of your process of becoming a motivational manager. If you use it with family and friends, you can immensely benefit those relationships as well.


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