Active Listening; its Skills and Importance in the Workplace
The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary for management success. -James Cash Penney
What is Active Listening?
Active listening is when you are fully aware and concentrate on what is being said rather than passively hearing what the speaker is trying to convey.
The goal of active listening is to acquire information, listen to understand people and situations before responding to it. It is the conscious decision to listen carefully and understand what people are trying to convey without being judgmental.
The listening ability can vary from person to person. But the good part is that it is a communication skill and can be acquired with time and patience. It is about focus and understanding and looking at things from different perspectives for the greater good.
Did you know, people spend between 70%-80% of their day engaged in some form of communication, and about 55% of their time is devoted to listening? But the question is, do they actively listen?
‘Active listening’ is the term first coined by psychologists, Carl Rogers and Richard Farson in 1957 in a paper of the same title.
‘Active listening is an important way to bring about changes in people. They indicate how clinical and research evidence clearly shows it as one of the most effective agents for individual personality change and group development. And also how active listening brings changes in peoples’ attitudes toward themselves and others; shaping their basic values and personal philosophy’.
Active listening skills
Basic Skills: The 3 A’s of Active Listening
Learning practical listening skills is not easy. Like any other skill, one must sincerely understand the dos and don’ts of listening and act accordingly to become a better listener. The first step is to understand the basic listening skills, the three A’s.
Attitude is a feeling of emotion that comes from understanding that we must be respectful towards what others say about a fact or state. Also, understanding that we all can learn something new from others even if we have strong beliefs or feelings prior to the topic. When we respect everyone, we tend to look beyond our preconceived notions and become better listeners.
To be a good listener, we must have good attention. But it is easier said than done. Many of us have less attention span, or we tend to distract away easily. If that is the case, you must practice some exercise to help you hold your attention to the speaker. Mind games or puzzles that keep your attention are great to start with. Meditation is one more important tool that helps us retain our focus and full attention.
Adjustment in listening is nothing but keeping an open mind. To follow what the speaker conveys, even if that is difficult for you to grasp or hold no meaning. Often we listen to great leaders speaking about business or life in general. If the topic of discussion steers in a monotonous direction, we tend not to adjust but daydream. When we keep an open mind and ready to invest our time, we adapt to the situation and, in the end, become a better listener.
Few More Important Active Listening Techniques and Skills
4. Face the speaker
Did you know in most Western cultures, facing the speaker or maintaining eye contact is a primary aspect of effective communication? Nobody wants your divided attention while they are speaking to you, be it your friend or colleagues. If you are scanning the room or busy with your phone while talking to someone, you give them a signal that you don’t value their time, and it is disrespectful. Keep all your distractions aside while you are talking to someone. Put your phone, books, papers, and other distractions aside, face the speaker, and try to be present in the conversation.
5. Use your mind
It is often difficult to focus your mind on the speaker, and we all have been there. Use your mind in such a situation and create a literal picture and abstract concepts to keep you focused. If it's a lengthy business meeting or a seminar, try to focus on the key points and make mental notes. Your mind will do it for you; just allow it to act and be present. Try to concentrate even if it bores you. If you find yourself distracted or daydreaming, immediately bring back your focus to the conversation.
6. Don’t Interrupt
When you interrupt during a conversation, you subconsciously tell the speaker that your voice is more important and relevant. Interrupting is not only rude but self-righteous. At times you may have to interrupt the speaker if you are bothered or have a question in your mind, but make sure to do it politely. Take permission before cutting the conversation midway.
7. Ensure understanding
Understand the purpose of a conversation and the speaker’s intention. Often while conversing with a friend or colleague, we tend to divert the conversation by asking them questions that are not related to the original topic. This conversational affront can be fixed if we are aware enough to get the speaker to talk about the topic they started with. This understanding is crucial for effective communication and to send across the right message without diluting the original topic.
8. Be Empathetic
Being empathetic allows you to be present with the speaker emotionally and understanding them by putting yourself into their shoes. It will enable you to feel the speaker’s emotions, either sad, joyful, or fearful. It is not easy to be present and concentrate at the moment always. But empathetic is being generous and putting your soul and heart in the conversation.
9. Give Regular Feedback
Give the speaker regular feedback to keep the speaker invested. You cannot stand or sit still like a robot listening to the speaker, which would make them confused. You can express your thoughts and feelings with your body language depending on or respond with ‘hmmm’ or ‘uh-huh’ occasionally. Ask questions that are appropriate to the given condition. In the workplace, send your feedback to the speaker to clear doubts and keep the conversation transparent.
The Importance of Active Listening in the Workplace
1. Building Trust
You and your employees are happy when you meet each other’s respective goals. For an employer, it is the organizational success and for the employees, it is the tasks and objectives they are assigned to complete. It is, therefore, very vital to have trust in each other for a healthy work experience.
We are aware of the fact that to build trust; we must tick the following:
- To lend an ear.
- To be honest and supportive.
- To be non-judgmental.
- To have healthy communication.
To tick these points, one must have an understanding, which can be developed by active listening. This will help align your words and actions and help build trust.
Encourage the speaker, ask questions, and be considerate.
Active listening has countless benefits when it comes to employee productivity.
When higher management does not hear the employees’ views and ideas, it fuels employees’ resentment and lowers productivity. Proper feedback and actively considering the employees’ views and ideas are vital for a healthy workplace and performance. Having said that, it is also important to assure that the internal communication is solid, only then they can develop a culture of mutual trust and understanding. It is always a two-way process.
Give and take effective feedback and acknowledge.
3. Resolves Conflicts
Conflicts and mishaps are inevitable in any workplace. The reasons for this can vary from a minor misunderstanding or a major debacle.
Misunderstandings, different viewpoints, or a lack of recognition often create conflicts in the workplace. There is nothing good communication cannot resolve. Here when I say ‘good communication’, I mean active listening.
Often we fail to understand or respect other’s views because we never see things from their perspectives. Our sense of self-righteousness also interferes here. Active listening helps in recognizing other’s perspectives and feelings and helps us appreciate them. This not only helps in resolving conflicts but also helps foster a culture of respect.
Try to understand others' perspectives before responding.
4. Strong Work Relationship
It is important to form a healthy work relationships in the workplace for healthy work experience. A study conducted by Faye Doell in 2003 showed that there are two types of listening: ‘listening to understand’ and ‘listening to respond.'
People who listen to understand form better relationships and are more empathetic in their approach. The same holds for work relationships. The more members in a workplace follow this approach, the better work relationships they form.
Be more empathetic and don’t rush to make a decision.
5. Self Empowerment
Self-empowerment helps you build your confidence and let go of your agendas. When you practice active listening and understand what is beneficial for you in the workplace, you expand your perspective in that direction and empower yourself. You become more aware of your work environment, and you communicate with your peers and members of the organization with much ease and confidence.
Actively listen and see the body language of the speaker. Be more open to learning from them.
Every company has its own company culture and each member adds value to it. The root of this culture starts with acceptance. Yes! Acceptance of its values and vision by all its members.
For an organization to succeed, both its employers and employees must be aligned with the common goal. Therefore, they need to accept each other for their respective parts and actively listen to each other while carrying out their work duties.
And also, in the onboarding process of new employees, management must listen to their feedback and views on different aspects of the organization. This minimizes confusion and gives a sense of acceptance to them. Active listening can, therefore, be a great morale booster.
Show the verbal and non-verbal signs of interest.
Like I said earlier, active listening is a skill and can be acquired. And if you have reached up to this part of the blog, then I can assume that you would be willing to practice active listening in your workplace.
I hope the above-mentioned tips help you attain that or at least educate you on the topic.
Remember! Understanding, encouraging the speaker to speak, focus, and keeping broad perspectives is the key.