Look into employee engagement and you’re likely to read this advice: Listen to your employees. Your reaction is probably a self-congratulatory “I do!” Listening is easy, right? Only, you might not be actively listening, and that can make a real difference. Read on to find out what we mean by active listening in the workplace and why you want to practice it.
The most important thing is not to confuse hearing with listening. You know the difference. You’ve experienced it, especially if you are the parent of a teen. You tell the teen that you want to leave at 6:30 to go to their baseball game. They need to be ready by then and have taken the trash out first. They grunt affirmation. At 6:30, they are playing Xbox and have no recollection of you saying anything about leaving or the trash. Why? Because they heard you talking earlier, but they weren’t actively listening.
What is active listening?
Active listening is truly listening to what the other person is saying. You are not only hearing that they are speaking but you are working to process what is said. Active listening in the workplace involves:
- Paying attention to acquire information and truly understanding the person’s meaning
- Reducing distractions while the other person is speaking
- Trying not to anticipate what they are going to say
- Avoiding thinking ahead to how you are going to answer them
- Focusing on the person’s words as well as their tone, emotion, body language
- Reflecting on what the person tried to convey before responding
Active listening is not routine. Yet it can be learned and practiced. We’ll cover how to develop your active listening skills in the next article in this series. In the meantime, let’s explore the advantages of applying active listening in the workplace.
Why active listening is essential in the workplace
Effective listening is valuable for many reasons all across the workplace, and not just for Human Resources teams! Benefits of active listening in the workplace include the following.
Whether it is with your colleagues, your manager, the people you supervise or your clients and customers, active listening is the foundation for successful communication.
According to a report by global PR firm Holmes, “the cost of poor communication has hit an overwhelming $37 billion.” The study’s 400 companies “estimated that communication barriers cost the average organization $62.4 million per year in lost productivity.”
After all, someone who is an active listener is better able to offer valuable feedback. This fosters a healthier workplace culture overall.
Active listening example: “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. If I hear you correctly, you feel that we’re rushing this project across the finish line.”
With effective communication comes reduced workplace conflict. If people are able to listen actively in the workplace, they are more likely to hear what is really being said. This can help teams:
- Avoid misunderstandings
- Know what is expected of them
- Understand shared objectives
- Recognize who is responsible for what
- Establish a plan of action
Each of these can help teams collaborate more effectively. They are also more likely to reach their goals without interpersonal drama.
Active listening example: “You seem hurt by what Jane said. What could she have done differently?”
You can increase employee engagement and improve retention when people feel that you are listening. Individuals that feel that their input is heard and respected are more likely to feel connected to the organization. They’re more likely to trust that management has their interests in mind when making decisions.
Active listening example: “I know this project is taking you out of your comfort zone. How are you coping?”
Having people that actively listen to one another can help projects move along smoothly. Individuals have heard what is expected of them and how to do it and when. They are in a better position to do the work well.
The reduction in conflict and creation of a positive working environment also helps your people stay focused on their work. They can accomplish more when they aren’t having to go back and ask again, “what did you mean when you said…”
Active listening example: “So, if I understand you correctly, you want me to reformat 17 of these presentation by 3 and it’s 2:30 now?” (Added advantage of this one: you’re helping the manager to hear when they might be setting an unrealistic expectation).
Active listening can foster awareness in two directions — of self and of others. With active listening in the workplace an individual can better understand how they communicate with others. This self-awareness can improve interactions with peers and managers, which can boost confidence as well.
This intentional listening can also help employers and employees recognize differences and learn to accept each other for their respective contributions. Active listening helps people to develop real connections and lets them feel more comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.
Active listening example: “That’s good feedback. I hadn’t considered how you felt to have me interrupt you during meetings.”
It’s estimated that people spend about 55% of their work day listening. Yet they may not be actively listening. That’s an opportunity missed. Look for the next article in this series which will discuss strategies to be a better active listener. We’ll also discuss how to apply active listening in client interactions.
Are you ready to listen a bit more closely? Now’s the time to hear what your employees have to say!