Active Listening Skills in the Workplace
Have you ever described yourself as a good listener? We expect you’ve likely put that you have great listening skills under the skills section of your resume.
After all, we know that’s what employers are looking for. But it may surprise you to know that there are two distinct styles of listening:
- Passive; and
Passive listening is when you listen to what is being told but you don’t react to it.
You may be hearing the words that are being said, but without any form of reaction (such as smiling, nodding your head or reacting to the conversation), it could be deemed that you’re not paying attention.
In contrast, active listening is a style of communication that shows you understand what is being said to you, and what you are being asked to do.
Active listening skills are about more than just hearing the words; it involves interpreting body language and other visual cues, and thinking about your response and knowing how to react appropriately.
Are You Listening Carefully?
We all like to think that we’re good listeners.
But the reality is that many of us only focus on passive listening. We don’t always take the time to show that we genuinely understand what is being told to us.
Active listening is a core skill, and it is one that we can learn.
Those who are great active listeners tend to work in job roles that are extremely person-centric.
- Listen to what is being said (and sometimes, more importantly, what is not being said)
- Read between the lines
- Interpret body language
- Instinctively know how to react to the context of the conversation
If you are experiencing a distressing work-related situation, you may approach your HR representative for a solution. You may need to talk to them about what the issue is and why it bothers you.
Although you are the person talking, you’ll be looking at your HR manager to see how they react and to see if they understand the nuances of what you are telling them.
You will know if they are paying attention because they may give off some non-verbal clues.
They might maintain eye contact, or they might be nodding their head, etc. This shows that they are actively listening to what you are telling them.
In contrast, have you ever sat in a lengthy meeting where your mind starts to drift from the speaker?
Perhaps you’ve begun mindlessly doodling on your notepad. Or maybe you start to think about what you are going to have for your lunch.
When you head back to your desk, you realize you’re not entirely sure of everything that was said during that meeting.
This is an all-too-relatable example of passive listening.
Why Are Active Listening Skills So Important in the Workplace?
As we’ve already mentioned, active listening skills are highly regarded in certain job roles.
A social worker listening to a tale of neglect or abuse must be able to actively listen to what is being said and show empathy to that person.
Similarly, someone working in the legal profession needs to be able to listen to everything that is being said and understand the nuances/intricacies involved so as not to miss any important details.
But it’s not just about certain professions.
When managed correctly, active listening skills can be hugely beneficial to every single workplace:
It Can Improve Communication Between Departments
When you are actively listening, you can interpret and retain information far more effectively. If your work relies upon collaboration with others, you need to know that each person is listening to one another and working as a team.
Active listening means that you are more likely to remember the information that you are given. If you then have to pass that information onto someone else (perhaps a status update on a specific project), it is clear that the information will be far more accurate, which could lead to better communication.
It Shows a Higher Level of Respect, Which Can Lead to Better Morale
By listening to what your staff or customers are telling you, and responding accordingly, you are naturally being far more respectful of others.
Perhaps you’re managing a small team. By ensuring that you are always actively listening to their concerns or their suggestions, they will feel far more supported. You might remember a previous suggestion that they had made. Or you may be able to nip small issues in the bud before situations escalate into something untenable.
The best managers know that listening to their staff (and acting accordingly) is a great way to improve team morale. This in turn can lead to greater productivity and increased staff retention – all positive for the business.
Active listening skills can improve conflict resolution
HR and legal professions know that active listening is a core component of any conflict resolution.
This is because you’ve been careful to pay attention to everything that has been said.
You haven’t missed any key information or misinterpreted the conversation. It means that because your information is accurate, you can implement effective solutions to overcome the core conflict.
It Can Enhance Your Decision-Making Capabilities
If you are working in a senior management position and you have responsibility for decision-making, you need to know that you are basing your decisions upon all the available data and knowledge.
Listening carefully to those around you means that you have a greater source of information from which to base your decisions.
This could be about listening to one person in particular or taking the time to listen to entire teams, or junior staff working on the frontline.
As you’ll be aware, improved decision-making can be crucial to the continued success of a business.
Active Listening Skills Can Improve the Relationship Between Employees and Managers
The ability to practice active listening can be hugely important in the context of the relationship that you have with your line manager.
Those who feel respected, listened to and cared for are far more likely to stay in a job role than those who don’t.
Managers are far more likely to see increased productivity, resilience and innovation from staff members if they can show that they are paying attention to individual employee concerns.
Looking at It From the Employee’s Perspective
As an employee, you need to show your line manager that you are listening to what you are being asked to do.
Your employer is unlikely to have the time to repeat instructions at a later date, particularly if it’s a time-sensitive matter. To complete the task efficiently you need to be fully aware of what you are being asked to do and why.
As part of your active listening skills, you should take the time to interpret how that task fits into the bigger picture and the wider business strategy. This is because it could change your approach to how you do the work.
You should also realize that your ability to listen to what your managers (and other teams) are saying could be hugely influential when it comes to your career development.
It can be tempting to zone out of meetings, especially if your work has already been discussed. But if you listen to what other colleagues are focusing on, you may have suggestions for areas of improvement or ideas for new products or services.
You can find better ways to collaborate effectively. You may even be able to make suggestions for new tools or training that could improve efficiency.
This will help you to develop a reputation for being a strategic thinker. And as such, you may start to find yourself in line for promotion opportunities.
Looking at It From the Manager’s Perspective
You may have worked your way up the career ladder because you have the technical skills and capabilities to know how to get the work done. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right skills to manage a team successfully.
A significant part of a manager’s job is to offer pastoral care to your team. You need to show that you’re actively listening to what your staff members are telling you.
Perhaps there is a clear conflict between two people. Or maybe, someone is being impacted by personal issues at home. By paying careful attention to conversations taking place around you (as well as directly to you), you can start to establish ways to overcome these issues.
This will not only lead to a better, more enjoyable working environment, but it will also give you a chance to overcome any negativities before they escalate. This can result in increased productivity and stronger staff retention.
It’s also important to consider how to use your active listening skills when it comes to spotting potential. Too many managers focus solely on annual performance reviews. They only take the time once a year to provide feedback to individuals or ask them what they want to achieve in their career.
If you’re a good manager, you should be seeking out individuals to find out what their ambitions are. If they are keen to work their way up the ranks, then you can put processes in place to help them immediately rather than waiting until they’ve reached breaking point and have decided to move on elsewhere.
Likewise, it’s also important to remember that good ideas never happen in silos. If you want to encourage a collaborative team culture, you need to lead by example.
Give individuals the opportunity to share ideas and suggestions and listen to what they say. You may realize that they may have identified an opportunity for clear business growth.
Practical Tips to Help You Become a Better Active Listener
Earlier in this article, we mentioned that active listening is a skill that needs to be learned. This is true. It’s something that doesn’t always come naturally to people. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a skill that we develop and become attuned with over time.
Here are some handy hints that you can use to improve your active listening skills:
Remove Any Unnecessary Distractions
If you’re listening to somebody, make sure you focus completely on them. Put your phone on silent or lock your computer screen so that you are not distracted.
There’s nothing more off-putting than trying to talk to people and seeing them face down on their phones. Removing distractions is not only more respectful, but it subconsciously means you are more likely to listen carefully to what they are saying.
Be Patient – Let the Person Finish Speaking
Good active listeners are those who know when they can talk to someone. They’ve understood when the person speaking has come to the end of the discussion point, and it’s the right time to respond.
Passive listeners are often unaware of these subtle cues and may interrupt the speaker at inconvenient moments. By staying patient and waiting for the right time, you are showing that you respect the speaker and that you trust that they will impart all of the necessary information that you need to know.
Listen With Your Body – Not Just Your Ears
This may be a strange thing to say, but when you’re fully listening to someone, there’s a natural reaction for your body to respond. This could be through maintaining eye contact or smiling.
It could be through nodding your head or it could even be subtly saying phrases such as ‘yes’, or ‘I agree’ or ‘I understand’.
Effective active listening skills are about facilitating two-way communication between yourself and your speaker. It’s about listening to what they are telling you, but also about showing them that you understand what is being said.
Paraphrasing Can Reiterate That You Have Interpreted Correctly
A quick and easy tactic to improve your active listening skills is to paraphrase or repeat back what you have just been told.
Similar to a job interview where you could repeat a hiring manager’s name (“That’s a great question, Karen”), repeating the core information either directly or indirectly can help to confirm that you understand what has been said.
Active listening is about accurate interpretations. Taking a moment or two to repeat something to the speaker (“Just to clarify, is this what you mean?”) can not only demonstrate that you have been listening, but also provide the opportunity to gain further information if needed.
In a work environment, this paraphrasing technique can be crucial to ensuring that every staff member is working towards the same goals in an accurate and efficient manner.
Think About the Questions That You’re Asking
Another core element of showing you have good active listening skills is by considering what questions you ask in the follow-up conversation.
If you ask a question where the information has already been provided, it will demonstrate that you haven’t been listening.
Try to think about open-ended questions as well as direct questions that you can ask that not only show that you’ve paid attention but are questions that enhance the conversation and help to further the information provided.
At the start of this article, we mentioned that employers are always looking for people with strong listening skills. If you take these hints and tips onboard, you may start to see a difference in your capabilities.
Perhaps you’ve been involved in a complex public-facing situation where you’ve had to deal with multiple groups of people. Or maybe you’re experienced in conflict resolution or you’ve used your skills to inform your decision-making capabilities.
Recruiters will be looking to see practical examples of when you’ve used your listening skills, and as such, they’ll be monitoring your performance closely during a job interview to check that you are actively listening.