Listening skills are essential to the communication process within an organisation because they allow you to decode information and follow instructions. The skill can help you safeguard yourself against mistakes and costly errors. Thus, developing your listening capabilities makes you a more desirable professional to collaborate with. In this article, we discuss what listening skills are, why they are important, how you can improve them and what tips to consider on attentive listening at work.
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What are listening skills?
Listening skills are your ability to hear a message and interpret the information being shared. Since the workplace is a social environment, you need these skills to show respect and follow instructions. Listening, however, not only involves hearing, but it's also an act of displaying regard for the opinions of others. Thus, it involves listening cues, such as maintaining eye contact and positive body language, to signify that you're paying attention.
Attentive listening also relies on your communication skills. Using techniques, such as summarising and asking questions to clarify your understanding, signify your care and concern for what the other person is saying.
Why is attentive listening important?
Attentive listening is important to facilitate collaboration within a team. It encourages team members to share their ideas and allows leaders to manage projects efficiently. Here's a more detailed overview of the importance of attentive listening:
When you listen to your co-workers, they are more likely to model the same behaviour and treat you with the same level of respect. This is especially important if you're in a leadership role. As a leader, the best way you can earn the trust of your colleagues is through listening to their ideas and feedback. The more open-minded you appear, the more you invite creative thinking and innovative solutions.
Personal and professional ties
Attentive listening helps maintain your professional network. When your colleagues and customers feel heard, it creates a lasting bond that may even lead to business partnerships in the future. The skill can also help you make solid connections at business events and conferences. For example, in a job interview, listening carefully to your recruiter's questions can help you structure more impactful answers that demonstrate your genuine interest in the role.
Core to business operations
The foundation of all business operations is communication and listening. When you listen attentively, you can negotiate business deals that satisfy all parties involved. If you're responsible for training other co-workers, attentive listening leads to effective mentoring and coaching. It allows you to determine areas for improvement and opt for a more relevant approach. Thus, listening is key to employee management and business productivity.
How to improve your listening skills
There are certain listening cues and body language signals you need to focus on to improve your ability to interpret the information people share with you. Here's a step-by-step guide detailing how you can practise attentive listening in the workplace:
1. Maintain eye contact with the speaker
When you maintain eye contact with the speaker, it suggests that you're paying attention. It's a subtle cue for them to carry on talking as it implies that you're following their lead. Remember that your facial expressions reveal your thoughts to others. Adhering to this polite listening cue prevents misunderstanding. It shows respect towards the speaker and encourages them to share their ideas with you.
2. Visualise what the speaker is saying
A great technique to improve your interpretation of what others are saying is visualisation. Building an image in your mind helps you picture how different components work together. This way, you can ask them more relevant questions and store the information in your memory for a longer period of time.
3. Try not to form any judgements
Assumptions can cause miscommunication. Thus, it's best to listen with an open mind. Set aside your preconceived ideas and focus on the information the speaker is sharing. Avoid criticising the speaker in your mind. Sometimes, people on the other side can pick up on a negative attitude, and therefore, may censor their thoughts. Showing the speaker that you care ensures you don't miss out on any important details or neglect any urgent problems. As a leader, this attitude of acceptance empowers your co-workers to be more accountable and honest in your presence.
4. Refrain from interrupting
Be patient as your speaker tries to form their argument and share it with you. Nod as they speak to encourage them to take the time to open up to you. While you might feel tempted to fill in the pauses or interrupt with your questions, it's best to wait for them to finish. Interruptions hiders the flow of information and can create confusion. Keep in mind that listening can sometimes be more powerful than speaking. Often, people aren't looking for solutions, rather they're looking for someone to hear them out.
5. Wait for a pause to ask questions
When you sense a natural end to the conversation, it's usually a sign for you to share your thoughts and ask questions. Listen carefully to gauge when the speaker has finished sharing their point. Until then, keep any questions you may have to yourself. They are more likely to welcome your questions and insights when they feel that you've heard their perspective completely.
6. Ask clarifying questions
If you need the speaker to fill in gaps in your understanding, ask them clarifying questions. Be transparent about your need for their support so that they can rephrase their information and help you understand its context better. Here are some examples of clarifying questions you can ask:
- "Have I understood you correctly?"
- "Is that what you meant?"
- "Did I hear you say [summarise the speaker's information]?"
- "Please, could you repeat that?"
- "It would be great if you could explain it in simpler terms."
7. Empathise with the speaker
Attentive listening shows empathy for your speaker. Through body language signals, such as nodding or facial expressions of concern, you can encourage them to open up to you. When people feel empathy from others, they are more likely to be honest about a situation and overcome setbacks quickly. This is especially important in the workplace, where empathy is key to conflict resolution and building strong bonds between colleagues.
8. Pay attention to nonverbal cues
Observation skills are crucial for attentive listening. They can tell you what the speaker feels and thinks about a situation. It's especially important to pick up nonverbal cues that don't align with the things the person is saying completely. For example, you can examine their body language to detect genuineness or defensiveness. These subtle cues can help you make a better assessment of a situation.
9. Provide the speaker with feedback
As a listener, you can tell whether the speaker has been clear with their language and instructions. If you feel you could understand them easily, share with them what they did well. However, if you felt confused, discuss how they could improve their communication skills with specific examples. Providing the speaker with feedback ensures that you continue to communicate efficiently in the future.
10. Practice listening
To improve your listening skills, it's important that you practise these techniques consciously. Ask the speaker for feedback so that you can continue to improve. Remember to always pay attention to your body language and facial expressions. Any effort to make the speaker feel more comfortable around you can aid your understanding significantly.
Tips on attentive listening at work
The following are a few tips about situations when you need to listen to others at work attentively:
- Negotiating with suppliers and partners. When negotiating a business partnership, always remain calm and listen to the speaker's perspective carefully. This way, you can better understand their situation and come to a sound compromise.
- Engaging your target market. Often, when a customer brings a problem to your attention, they want someone to listen to and empathise with them. If you can listen attentively, they are more likely to forgive the problem and remain loyal to your products and services.
- Giving support to your co-workers. Being a good listener at work can help build trust and maintain harmony within your team. When listening, look for any signs of discomfort or dissatisfaction to detect problems in advance.
- Accepting advice from your supervisor. Listening to the advice of a business leader or mentor can help you improve your work performance. Implementing their feedback in your work shows that you're a reliable professional who can learn from constructive criticism.