It has never been more important or challenging to improve our listening skills than in today’s hybrid workplace, highlighting that soft skills have become as essential as hard skills in today’s workforce. With our time increasingly spent watching screens, good speaking and listening are undoubtedly important, but knowing how to communicate effectively through listening is essential for success; because listening to people is the key to getting people to listen to you. And while we all know that listening is important, few people know how to do it well.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that soft skills such as listening are easy to master. Active listening takes intentional effort, and daily pressures and demands often leave us little time to focus on slowing down to actually listen and understand what the person is saying, respond and reflect on what’s being said, and retain the information for later. On a busy day, what I’ve found helpful is reminding myself to pay attention to my surroundings and avoid distractions such as my second screen or team’s pop-ups. I make a conscious effort to not just passively absorb the conversation but actively support it, and I do my best to bring the conversation to a close with takeaways and next steps if need be. In my previous article, The Rise of the Empathetic Manager, I discussed how empathy and listening skills set a leader apart and allow employees to bring their true selves to work. Something I truly believe in, and as a result, trust is built, and a workplace culture of honesty and bravery is created that supports collaboration.
Because we all know becoming a good listener takes practice, here is something for you to try in your next meeting; take notice of people speaking and encourage a quiet team member to share their perspective on the topic of discussion. The more engaged everyone is in a conversation, the more everyone will feel like we’re getting something out of our meetings, whether that’s connecting, learning, or a sense of accomplishment. By being a thoughtful listener, asking questions, seeking clarification, and encouraging others to share their perspectives you’ll strengthen your role as a partner, friend, colleague, manager, and mentor. Try not to cut people off, finish their sentences, or start preparing your answer before they’ve finished. Ask questions to help clarify or if you have doubts or confusion about what has been said. Your friends, co-workers and direct reports will respect you more, and you’ll likely see improvements in your relationships with them.
Appropriately, respect is another key word here, as it goes without saying that respect is crucial in every workplace. By promoting attentive listening, we can establish a company culture where employees know how to speak and listen to one another. We can also help show respect by listening to each other’s ideas and issues or concerns. When we are encouraged to listen to each other, we promote an open-minded and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and heard. It is more likely that employees who are encouraged to listen attentively will ask questions, clarify their understanding, and make better decisions as a result. As mentioned earlier, having a good listening culture helps employees collaborate better but also promotes innovation. As communications improve, so does teamwork, leading to better productivity by learning from one another.
So, the moral of the story is this…When we don’t listen, decisions and judgments based on assumptions can lead to various workplace problems. When used correctly, listening can create openness and respect, which we all need to do good work and nurture a safe environment. So, keep reminding each other that good active listening requires paying attention, withholding judgment & interruptions, reflection & clarification, and sharing and being open to new ideas, perspectives, and possibilities. In doing so, we help create changes in our environment that will benefit everyone.
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