There’s a classic saying that doing nothing can be the most challenging thing. It’s easier to jump straight into the thick of things and get involved to gain a semblance of satisfaction in our contributions. That’s why active listening might seem like a herculean feat for many leaders, yet, it’s also one of the most valuable leadership skills.
In its barest form, active listening relates to paying genuine attention to another person’s opinion, rather than rushing for your turn to speak. As such, listening goes beyond hearing – it requires the listener to understand or assess the speaker’s intentions and provide quality feedback where applicable.
Active listening serves as a powerful tool at the workplace by promoting trust, understanding, and keeping teams united towards fulfilling organisational goals. Additionally, organisational leaders and supervisors who use active listening techniques convey empathy and support, which give employees greater confidence in management.
Active Listening Tip #1 – Pay Attention
Attention lies at the core of active listening. It is essential to focus on the speaker’s main point and not get caught up in the trivial details. Sometimes, it seems tempting to cut off a speaker to exert your opinions (especially when there is a clash in ideology), but true leaders should avoid this at all costs. Instead, focus on the speaker’s intentions, understand where he/she is coming from, and listen to the end.
Eye contact plays a vital part in active listening. According to research, the average eye contact between speakers-listeners is between 30-60% and 60-70% in an exciting conversation. A lack of eye contact might correlate with disinterest and poor communication. Therefore, active listening goes beyond verbal cues, incorporating non-verbal mannerisms in optimising face-to-face interactions.
Active Listening Tip #2 – Be Accurate
Active listening makes a significant positive impact because it displays a genuine understanding of another person’s perspective – minus the assumptions. Therefore, it’s important to seek clarity on a subject, especially if it seems vague or complicated. Avoid ignoring points that you don’t understand or forming conclusions without raising them to the speaker.
Human memory is fallible, a fact corroborated by growing scientific evidence that nature programmed humans to forget (and make room for new, and perhaps, more relevant information). As such, you might consider taking down notes on your smartphone, tablet, or notepad while you’re actively listening in a conversation.
Paraphrasing is one effective way to show that you listened and understood your employee’s intentions. The process involves addressing a specific point in your own words, such as “so what you’re saying is that we can’t achieve Y because of X?”.
The tone of voice and body language are significant factors when paraphrasing a question under such a scenario. Avoid appearing hostile or unreceptive (i.e., crossing the arms or sounding confrontational) as these responses are likely to compromise future communications.
Active Listening Tip #3 – Stay Empathetic
Empathy can significantly improve relations at the workplace. Lisa Walker, the vice-president of brand and corporate marketing at software solution company Fuzz, shares, “a barrier to a more empathetic workplace often stems from a lack of understanding about how to start the conversation.”
Active listening helps create meaningful relationships among co-workers by identifying shared interests while withholding judgment or advice. Gradually, co-workers start to develop empathy among groups, which ensures everybody is on the same page. Sometimes, all employees want is a listening ear that acknowledges their doubts and concerns, so they develop a sense of acceptance and belonging, almost like being in a second home.
Short verbal prompts like “hmm” and “I see” show participation in the conversation as an active listener. Employees who feel comfortable and safe speaking at work are more likely to share their views, leading to healthier and more transparent workplace culture.
Active Listening Tip #4 – Aim for Mutual Stimulation
Ultimately, active listening should benefit both parties (speaker and listener) to some degree. While listeners should aim not to interrupt speakers while they share their opinions, it’s beneficial to pose some questions at the end. Similar to paraphrasing, the practice of asking questions shows a genuine understanding of the speaker’s thoughts.
Additionally, these questions should be ideally open-ended, paving the way for a longer and more insightful conversation. Through asking constructive questions and responding to them, co-workers at the workplace can engage in mutually creative stimulation to uncover fresh and progressive perspectives towards resolving issues.
It is also essential to be mindful of the speaker’s thoughts and emotions and value their opinion however they may deviate from your own. By respecting others’ views and experiences, there’s a good chance that they will reciprocate in kind.
Active Listening Tip #5 – Learn from Others
Observation is sometimes crucial in learning and fine-tuning workplace behaviour. When it comes to active listening, there is much to learn and infer from individuals paid to listen professionally. Notable examples include talk show hosts such as Dick Cavett and the late Larry King. Many recorded interviews live on the web, providing valuable lessons on active listening.
Observe the interviewers’ mannerisms, their deliberately patient pauses, voice inflections, and reactions of guests. Accrue information on the mistakes and most effective techniques, and integrate the observations in your workplace conversations.
Active listening seems like a silver bullet to workplace conflicts, but there’s never such a thing when it comes down to the complexities of human dynamics. While listening can help build and strengthen professional relations, it is highly advantageous to develop an inspiring approach.
Tessa Melkonian, a professor in management and organisational behaviour, states, “We are in a time of economic uncertainty and rapid evolutions and, now more than ever, employees need their managers to step up and be role models by adopting the very behaviours they require from others.”
Leaders need to consider what’s next, improving existing chemistry and establishing ways of transforming employees into active listeners themselves.
StrengthsAsia has helped many individuals and corporate clients empower leaders throughout the region by enabling breakthrough experiences for both leaders and followers. If you wish to learn more about the Strengths Leadership Program, please reach out to us here.