Every day people come to their leader, manager or supervisor and share problems. Some are big and some are small. Some are even complex. All are meaningful in the eyes of those who are sharing them. From my experience and observation, the best managers and leaders I know practice the art of active listening when this happens.
Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what (s)he hears. Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others by focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending one's own frame of reference as a manager or leader and suspending judgment plus avoiding other internal mental activities are an important part of this process. As the best managers and leaders know, the ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.
There are three primary elements that comprise active listening, namely comprehending, retaining, and responding. Comprehending means finding shared meaning between the listener and the speaker. It includes determining the context of what is being shared and reducing distractions to improve retention.
Retaining involves paying attention to key information for retention purposes while responding involves looking for verbal and non-verbal messages.
Active listening also includes the ability to repeat key messages using exactly the same words as the speaker. This includes paraphrasing which means rendering the message using similar words and similar phrase arrangements to the ones used by the speaker, and finally reflecting which includes rendering the message using your own words and sentence structure.
When good managers want to become great managers, they need to learn active listening and practice active listening. It takes time and energy to do this but once they are successful it will transform their capacity to match talented people with unique opportunities.