Active Listening Builds Workplace Communication and Relationships 

admin — 02 February 2024

Active listening promotes communication, trust, and relationship in the workplace, thus enhancing workforce engagement and organizational health.  

Why do we need to listen actively to one another?

Whether in personal or professional communication, active listening leads to better understanding, empathy, and trust – all are cornerstones for relationships.

Active listening puts the speaker’s needs first, with the priority of making the speaker feel heard and understood.  It calls on us to focus our attention, suspend judgment, and invite deeper and clearer communication. 

Building meaningful relationships in the workplace is challenging.  Only 33% of employees felt engaged at work in 2023, according to Gallup. The survey also found that employees are less likely than in the past to “feel someone at work cares about them as a person.”

Motivated employees are engaged and connected to their organizations and leaders. Active listening can help build workplace relationships and increase trust and engagement, based on  understanding and respect. 

But no one is born an active listener. It takes skills, practice, and patience.

How do we become good listeners?

  • Limit Distractions

Give the speaker our full attention.  To do that, we need to limit distractions.

The first step is to limit outside distractions.  That includes putting away cell phones, turning away from computer screens, resisting the urge to check messages, and the like.  

Equally important is to avoid inner distractions by calming our thoughts.  Focus on the speaker.  Quiet the inner monologue and allow stray thoughts or worries to pass through without attaching to them.  

If we do get distracted, it’s okay to say, “I’m sorry, I missed that. Could you repeat it?”

  • Listen Until the End

Listening to a speaker’s entire message requires respect, patience, and calm. Hear the speaker out until the end. That means listening without “tuning out,” “jumping in,” or “not being there” — any of which prevents us hearing the entire message, and inhibits the speaker from completing the thought. 

“Tuning out” is not listening because we believe that we know what the speaker is going to say, or refuse to accept the words spoken. 

“Jumping in” or interrupting is replying before the speaker finishes, with advice, solutions, or even criticism.

“Not being there” is mentally preparing answers without listening or paying attention to the speaker. 

  • Withhold Judgment

Withholding judgment does not mean we agree with everything.  The goal is simply to understand the message as fully as possible.

We silence our inner critic, suspend judgment, and take in the speaker’s words completely. By withholding judgment, we avoid the temptation to listen through the filter of our personal biases, assumptions, and interpretations.

  • Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Cues 

The words we hear carry only a part of the speaker’s message and intended meaning.  For deeper insight, pay attention to nonverbal cues, such as body language, tone of voice, and emotional state.  

Nonverbal cues offer a window into unspoken thoughts and concerns, which can prompt deeper understanding, clearer discussions, and better resolutions.

  • Ask Questions

Asking questions keeps both parties focused and engaged, shows the listener we’re interested, and leads to deeper insight.  

Two of the most useful types of questions, according to Psychology Today, are “open” questions and “validation” questions.

“Open” or “open-ended” questions encourage the speaker to give more details and go into greater depth. Examples include, “Can you tell me more about _____?” and “What do you think about ______?”  

Validation questions are used to confirm that we have understood the speaker. Examples include, “Do you mean that ______?” or “Am I correct in saying that _____?” 

Open and validating questions ensure that the listener and speaker stay on the same page. They make communications more informative, engaging, and insightful.

  • Reflect Interest by Repeating or Paraphrasing 

“Reflecting” the speaker’s words back, through repetition or paraphrasing, is a technique to show interest, care, and understanding. It also encourages the speaker to continue speaking.

There are different opinions on the practice of “reflecting” the speaker’s words. In their 2021 article in the Harvard Business Review, Abrahams and Groysberg insist that strict repetition is crucial, even if it feels awkward.  In her 2023 article on active listening (Forbes), Wells offers that paraphrasing and summarizing are effective, too.

The answer may come down to personal style and preference.  Using at least some of the speaker’s words helps confirm that we’ve been listening, but we want to avoid sounding stilted or unnatural.

These are just a few techniques to help develop emotional regulation, especially on the part of leaders, people skills, and active listening skills as part of relationship intelligence.  Each will require practice, and some techniques may feel awkward at first. But making even small improvements in listening skills can go a long way toward improving communication and building better relationships.

If you would like to learn more about active listening and building better relationships in the workplace, please contact us.  

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ForeMeta offers breakthrough leadership coaching to develop CEO self-leadership and leading teams and organizations.  We offer both individualized coaching or group coaching to help leaders and their people achieve greater success.  Please contact Mike@ForeMeta.com

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