Why is Listening a Skill in the Workplace?
Across all facets of our personal and professional lives, listening is vital – yet we can often be terrible at it.
In fact, research shows that the average person only listens at around 25% efficiency… even though they believe that they communicate as effectively, or more effectively than their co-workers!
In the workplace, most of our listening can boil down to receiving information, learning, and listening to understand… but is that enough?
What do we mean by listening as a skill?
We’ve all had a moment in a workplace environment where we notice that we aren’t truly being listened to.
Whether the other person seems to be listening simply to be able to speak themselves, or if someone is distracted during the conversation, we generally struggle to actively listen.
For example, have you ever found yourself deciding what it is you’re going to say next in a conversation when someone isn’t even finished talking?
Active listening is instead the ability to actively engage in listening, whilst also reflecting on what is being said in order to ask questions and verbally and non-verbally engage in the discussion.
This is why active listening is a skill – we need to develop it over time and practice it continuously.
What is active listening?
Think of active listening as being the strong foundation to build all of your workplace communication on.
Here are some of the most important factors in active listening.
– Non-verbal cues
Nothing can shut a conversation down like unintentional verbal interjections or interruptions!
Non-verbal cues are a great way to encourage the person speaking and also show that you are following along.
Nodding, eye-contact, and fully facing the speaker are good examples of non-verbal cues – just try not to be distracted by other things that are going on.
This is arguably the most essential area of active listening in the workplace, particularly when it comes to dealing with more sensitive topics (e.g., mental health).
You want the speaker to feel valued and to trust you, and for them to do so, you need to avoid challenging their views and interrupting them.
Wait for the speaker to finish what they are saying before responding or offering a different perspective but remember that adding judgement to the equation is only likely to shut the conversation down prematurely.
– Patience and paraphrasing
Being attentive requires patience because consistent encouragement is necessary.
Reflecting phrases and specific subjects back is a great way to display attentiveness, for example, “I’ve noticed that you’ve mentioned XYZ a few times, is this something that I could help with?”.
By taking the time to listen and pick up on the key points, you can later summarise (e.g., giving a quick overview of the main points of the conversation to allow room for clarification) what has been said and ask the relevant questions.
If an employee goes to a line manager to discuss difficulties they’ve been having at work that are impacting their mental health, for example, empathy can often be the thing that makes the biggest significant difference.
Empathy means that you are understanding what someone is saying and feeling from their perspective, which means that the support and guidance you can offer is far likelier to give them what they need – you’re not basing your response on assumptions.
How can you use active listening in the workplace?
For employees, line managers and senior leaders alike, active listening can go a long way in the workplace.
Let’s take a look at a few uses that active listening could have.
– Resolving conflict
You’re unlikely to find a workplace that doesn’t have some form of conflict at one point or another.
The potential implications of handling conflict badly can be catastrophic – from mistrust between colleagues to high staff turnover – which can be resolved instead by active listening.
Conflict in the workplace can usually boil down to different viewpoints, misunderstandings, or a lack of recognition.
By using the skills involved in active listening such as empathy, a line manager could validate an employee’s concerns by seeing it from their perspective without judgement.
This helps to create an environment of trust and respect.
– Building strong relationships
A workplace can thrive when there is trust.
Truly listening to employees’ and their ideas, feelings and thoughts can help to build trust and also potentially raise productivity.
Using active listening as a means to give solid, effective feedback is key to this – a workplace in which employees lack recognition is only likely to breed resentment – as it comes from a place of mutual understanding.
– Company culture
Cultivating a strong workplace culture requires active listening for employees to feel part of something, which can start with something as simple as engaging in non-judgemental discussions to hear their viewpoint.
This in turn creates a wider workplace culture of openness, which can go a long way in improving initiatives around mental health and other more ‘sensitive’ areas.
Many of us in the workplace will at some point be faced with uncomfortable or difficult conversations, which is why having the ability to deal with them is essential.
Particularly when it comes to tackling conversations around areas such as mental health – whereby sensitivity and being prepared are most definitely required – there is a need to integrate strong communication into your workplace culture.
Knowing the elements of active listening is a strong place to start, and there are plenty of courses and guides out there to further boost your understanding of active listening and communication in the workplace.