Actively Listening? [Say Whaaaaat?]

Actively Listening? [Say Whaaaaat?]

Of course, you’re actively listening!!! Right? Perhaps and perhaps not!

What does it mean to be an active listener, and why is it so important? Organizations heavily rely on conversations that are critical to their ultimate success. To fully understand the message, employees must actively listen. Otherwise, successful outcomes to tasks, projects, and initiatives may not result.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening isn’t just about listening. It demonstrates to the speaker that we physically hear them. We are mentally invested. And we value what they have to say. An active listener will be paying full attention by:

According to the University of Southern California, people who haven’t developed good listening skills usually understand and remember only about 50% of a conversation. Within 48 hours, that drops to less than 25%.

Active listening is a soft skill that can be acquired and refined through training. Employees can use active listening skills to improve their communication technique. In turn, this builds strong relationships with fellow employees. Being a stellar listener is one of the qualities people value most in others.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” - Stephen R. Covey, American educator, businessman, speaker, and author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Why is Active Listening Important?

Active listening leads to a greater understanding of critical information. It also nurtures workplace relationships.

Consider this scenario. Mary and Tom are in a meeting with Alice, their manager. Alice is discussing details about an upcoming conference. Tom is listening, and it shows by his body language. Not only is he leaning toward Alice, but he’s asking thoughtful questions, too. Mary appears disengaged. Instead of expressing genuine interest and maintaining eye contact with Alice, she is texting. Alice notices Mary’s behavior and believes she has zero interest in attending the career development conference. Tom receives an invitation to the conference. Mary does not.

Whether one is actively listening or not reflects the outcome of a situation.

Benefits of Active Listening

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” - M. Scott, Peck, American psychiatrist and best-selling author of The Road Less Traveled

While it’s tempting to look at social media during a boring meeting, employees could miss important information about a project or even the respect of team members. And, just as important, they’ll miss the chance to build stronger bonds with each other.

Active listening is a skill that both employees and employers need to develop. Employees who are good listeners will demonstrate and benefit from:

Active listening helps build stronger teams over time. When team members practice active listening, it becomes part of the company culture. Listeners won’t feel as if they are passive participants. Instead, they are engaged, ask relevant questions, and share feedback.

7 Tactics to Become an Active Listener

Here are tactics to help improve active listening skills to better focus on key details and emotions instead of focusing on your response.

#1: Pay full attention. Most employees have too many distractions, including cell phones, social media, and even their own thoughts. Make a conscious effort to turn away from the distractions. Reschedule the meeting if the timing is not right due to distractions interfering with the conversation. Giving 100% undivided attention shows genuine interest and respect.

Set the tone of the conversation by allowing plenty of time for the employee to speak. While they’re talking, offer positive feedback by stating “Yes” or “I understand.” This acknowledgment shows the speaker that the listener is mentally present with them as they talk. What better way to put an anxious employee at ease? Or someone excited to share an innovative solution to a problem? Both these employees want to not only be heard but understood and actually listened to!

“To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It’s a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued.” - Deborah Tannen, American author, and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University

#2: Body language should reflect listening. Stay in the moment of the conversation and the listener’s body language will follow suit. They’ll instinctively maintain eye contact and lean in toward the speaker. They’ll lift their eyebrows in wonder, interest, or excitement. Their body will face toward the speaker rather than away. They’ll nod and smile. These nonverbal cues will let the speaker know they’re listening.

#3: Withhold judgment. Listeners should keep an open mind. They shouldn’t immediately jump to conclusions. They should be empathetic listeners by being open to different perspectives. They shouldn’t criticize or be argumentative. They should ask curious open-ended questions. For instance, “What’s your plan of action for the next step?” Listeners should take time to understand the speaker’s point of view and dig deeper into the details. They should continue to ask questions that help the speaker delve deeper into their thoughts and experiences.

If listeners lose focus because judgmental thoughts get in the way, apologize. Then, kindly ask them to repeat what they said.

#4. Don’t interrupt. When listeners interrupt the speaker, it shows a lack of respect. The impression this conveys is that what they have to say is not important. Likewise, interruptions can make the speaker feel insignificant. Valuable information may not be communicated due to the interruption.

#5: Provide clarification. Create an environment of open dialogue. Listeners should be sure not to force their own agenda or over-talk colleagues. Instead, listeners should make sure they clearly understand what the employee is conveying. Asking for more information shows genuine interest in the speaker. And it also encourages them to explain their thoughts in greater detail. Listeners should be sure to take notes of details, such as individuals’ names.

Listeners should paraphrase their thoughts. They may say something like, “Am I understanding you to say....” Repeating what they said in the listener’s own words ensures both agree. Listeners should include specifics the speaker mentions. This attention to detail shows the listener cared enough to focus on the minutia of their message.

#6: Respond appropriately. The listeners’ role is to help the speaker come up with a solution themselves. Thus, the listeners must have a full understanding of the situation. If the listeners feel they have a helpful solution, ask what would happen if the team did x. After agreeing on the solution, discuss takeaways and responsibilities moving forward. Recapping the conversation and setting the next steps shows the speaker everyone actively listened to and understood the details of the conversation.

#7: Take effective communication training. Listening sounds so easy. However, it’s easier said than done. Recent research shows that poor listening habits and skills affect “more than 70% of all employees, resulting in misunderstandings, errors, missed opportunities, arguments, stalled projects, and damaged relationships.”

Most people can’t excel in actively listening without training. Training helps employees and managers understand how to be better listeners and why it benefits all employees and their workplace. The better employees are at listening the more information they will receive as they’ve built rapport. Being active listeners will help employees grow in their careers.

HSI Can Help

“Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.” - Carl Rogers, American psychologist and one of the founders of humanistic psychology

Effective communication makes or breaks the success of teams — and ultimately of the organization. In the age of distractions, active listening is a vital skill to learn. Training in active listening should include information on the purpose and benefits of active listening, as well as potential barriers to listening and how to be a better listener. By training employees in active listening techniques, employers can improve their workplace, fostering better working relationships and greater understanding.

Here’s a sampling of some of HSI’s and Blue Ocean Brain’s courses:

Research shows that 89% of the best-in-class companies use the Korn Ferry Competencies to improve performance. To further employees’ communication skills, HSI offers video-based microlearning courses that support the "communicates effectively" competency. Active listening is one of the many skill sets included in this core competency.

Many of HSI’s clients open our course library for self-directed employee learning. Employees can choose off-the-shelf training videos to sharpen their knowledge and learn new skills. For more information on HSI’s soft skills training, request a free trial.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” - Dr. Ralph Nichols, known as the “Father of Listening,” professor, and founder and first president of the International Communication Association

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