The importance of putting active listening into practice in the workplace
What active listening is, why it is important at work and how you can start developing it.
Nowadays effective communication is the key to leadership. However, even though it’s a very important skill, when we speak about effective communication at work, we often forget that it’s a two-way street: transmission and reception. Knowing how to receive information correctly in life and indeed at work has a name: active listening. Although many of us think we do this, in reality it’s not quite true. In this article we’re going to have a look at why active listening is so important at work, what its main benefits are and how you can start to implement this essential soft skill for every leader.
What is active listening at work and how can you put it into practice?
Active listening at work is one of the most important soft skills, but it’s often undervalued. When we talk about active listening, we mean paying special attention to what the other person has to say, but on top of this, the way they are saying it, for instance with their body, their tone of voice, or the subtext, to name a few. Of course, it also includes letting others know that we are listening and understanding. Fancy a look at an example of active listening at work? Ok! Let’s take a look:
A workmate is giving you some important information so you can carry out a task. How do you listen actively?
- Stop whatever you’re doing at the time and give the person your full attention.
- Carefully observe their body to work out their nonverbal messages and pay attention to their tone of voice. If you observe any tension or anxiousness in their words, you can take certain initiatives to make communication more effective. For example, if the person is standing, suggest they take a seat. If they come across as anxious, try not to get anxious yourself, instead counteracting their attitude with answers that express tranquility, so that the other person will perceive confidence and support (here’s a tip: try to focus on your breathing to keep calm).
- At each instruction, nod your head or show you understand by using interjections such as “ah”, “ok”, “alright” or “got it” (or whatever else you’d usually use to express understanding!).
- It’s important to turn the volume of your internal dialogue down a bit and shut out any ideas that come up with the sole objective of distracting you from what the other person is saying. Some meditative techniques can really help you put active listening into practice at work.
- Active listening in general and at work has a very clear goal point: don’t interrupt! So let your colleague finish talking before asking any possible questions that may pop up.
- When the other person responds to your questions, listen again in the same way.
- Finally, review everything you’ve understood, placing special emphasis on any doubts and questions being resolved, saying for example: “So, according to you, this is about…”, “and the answer to my question regarding…”, “…is that correct?”
- Above all, keep a neutral attitude, without judgement, and use facial expressions and body language that are “open” to receiving messages.
- It may well be that the other person has difficulty expressing themself, so remain calm in order to create the right environment to help them express what they really need to say, even though it can be a bit of a challenge sometimes!
As you can see, active listening is incredibly important at work and requires a lot of patience, self-knowledge and emotional intelligence. Is that why listening skills in the workplace are such a highly-valued management skill? Of course!
Main benefits of active listening at work:
Here are the most relevant benefits of active listening at work:
- It is the basis for building strong relationships, as it helps establish trust and commitment between the different individuals in the company.
- It helps reduce mistakes and conflicts, because by paying attention to what others have to say and voicing questions, the possibility of misunderstandings and disagreements decreases.
- Because of all this, active listening helps improve performance. After all, working confidently allows you to create motivated teams that are capable of completing tasks properly and by deadlines.
You can start putting active listening into effect to improve your relationships at work right away. Check out an interview online and study the codes of behaviour of each person involved. When you’re back at work, practise active listening with one of your colleagues. Ask how their day has been going and pay attention to their body language and voice, keep eye contact, avoid distractions, give a little feedback with, “You’ll see just how”, or “little by little”. Active listening can become a great ally at work. Give it a go!