The American psychiatrist and author, M. Scott Peck once said, “You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” The quote holds today. With the headsets and headphones becoming commonplace at work, it may seem like we can listen to someone while working on something else at the same time. But in reality, many of our modern habits, such as multitasking, can severely hamper our focus and attention.
Once we develop the habit of active listening, our lives can be completely transformed. In our personal lives, it brings about more authentic relationships and more meaningful connections. In work, active listening can lead to more fruitful negotiation and a more efficient team. It means being able to truly see a problem or challenge from the eyes of your team members, as well as your customers.
In this article, we’ll explore the role and importance of active listening within the workplace.
Types of Listening
The two main types of listening techniques are passive and active:
Passive Listening – A passive listener is someone that hears the words of a speaker but does not comprehend, interpret, or analyze as the message is delivered. They are not fully present and do not fully understand the contents of the speaker’s language.
Active Listening – An active listener is someone who listens to each word uttered by a speaker. They understand the meaning, intent, and nonverbal cues of the speaker.
The Dos and Don’ts of Active Listening
- Remove distractions. Concentration is the differentiating factor between active and passive listening. By removing common distractions like televisions, music players, and social media, you can pay close attention to what your colleague is saying.
- Ask questions. By engaging with questions, you’ll better understand the main points and intentions behind a person’s words. The benefit of this practice is two-fold: first, it demonstrates a genuine interest in the subject, and second, it helps you fill any gaps in understanding.
- Remove emotions and bias. Enter any conversation with an open mind. When you show up without bias, you’ll be able to grasp or remember the details that are outside of your usual mode of thinking.
- Give nonverbal cues. You don’t have to say anything to communicate your thoughts. Being mindful of your body language and facial expressions can have a high impact on the conversations you have at work.
- Wait until the speaker is done. As the author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, once said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Avoid offering a premature answer or opinion as it will convey that you have not been fully listening.
- Interrupt. Always let the other person finish their train of thought. Nothing is as disrespectful as cutting in before someone is finished speaking. If you interject, be sure to apologize.
- Write down everything. For more extended conversations, it may be helpful to keep notes of the key points and facts. Of course, you must be careful using this approach— you want to ask the speaker’s permission and also ensure you’re not just writing things down for the sake of it.
- Multitask. The more you do at once, the less you can concentrate on each task. Focus on one thing. If it’s listening to someone else, make sure you give your full, undivided attention. Then you can truly hear what your coworker is saying.
Benefits of Active Listening
Focusing on one task at a time will always improve your work productivity. The same is true with listening to someone. A client may have a lengthy ask, including numerous deliverables and deadlines. Active listening ensures that you capture the key points, which can save you time when you have action items to carry out.
Positive Work Atmosphere
Which environment would you prefer to work in: one in which your leaders and coworkers listen to you, or one in which you feel ignored? Work becomes less stressful and isolating in cultures that encourage empathy and listening to one another. A community that promotes active listening is bound to create a more positive and collaborative atmosphere.
Active listening isn’t just about the other person; it’s an act that empowers you to improve your sense of self as well. Listening is a humbling experience that requires setting aside problems and concerns for that of another person’s. By connecting with another person through active listening, you can better explore shared experiences and struggles.
Any relationship, whether platonic or romantic, benefits from clear and unburdened communication. In a 2003 study conducted by Faye Doell, couples that listen to understand (as opposed to looking to respond) end up having more pleasant and satisfying relationships overall. When people are free to express their thoughts, people come to solutions faster and in more creative ways. It also forms a more inviting work experience— when the people around you can be honest without feeling judged.
Read our other post on communicating better as a team.
Almost every argument or conflict stems from misunderstanding one’s point of view. Almost every misunderstanding comes from missing someone’s main points or misinterpreting their words. Creating time and space for focused communication can help to avoid the friction that sometimes arises in the workplace.
Examples of Active Listening
There are a few ways in which one can practice actively listening to someone else. The first involves asking questions. When people are genuinely curious about someone’s story, they tend to ask about the setting, how another person felt during the event, or other essential details to the story. At work, asking questions about an assignment or project shows you care and want to produce quality results.
On a similar note, there may be moments when you want to repeat or paraphrase the main problem back to the speaker. When timed correctly, this can signify that you are following along their narrative. It also serves a secondary purpose of helping you give form and structure to your understanding.
Active listening is not solely about listening, but about seeing the other person too. How many times have you tried to talk to someone, only for them to be more captivated by their phone’s screen or television? Authentic listening requires making eye contact, as well.
Finally, when the other person is finished speaking, you may want to follow up in some way. In some situations, offering support, whether emotional or physical, can make a world of difference and goes beyond the simple act of listening.
The next time you’re around your coworkers or client, try using one of the methods listed above to engage in more thoughtful, active listening. You may not notice instant results, but over time, you’ll start to see a maturation in your relationships and yourself. We are social creatures, after all, and the first step to any social interaction is to listen.