By Elle Kaplan
Listening may seem simple. You may not consider it to be a powerful tool. However, more and more business leaders and entrepreneurs are taking it on as a serious skill and are reaping the rewards.
The directed act of listening will enrich your workplace relationships, improve group productivity, and even boost your own mood. While it’s inevitable for conflict to arise from communication, you can turn misunderstandings into positive action with active listening.
Active listening is the key to getting the most out of a conversation and has numerous personal and interpersonal benefits. While studies show that most people believe that they have above-average listening skills, the average person listens with only about 25% efficiency. Listening is a misunderstood skill and one in which you probably have great potential for growth.
Actively listening can be defined as giving your complete, intentional focus to what someone says, rather than what their words literally mean. Peter Drucker, the highly successful management consultant, and author, once said that “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
A study conducted by York University psychologist Faye Doell in 2003 found those who “listen to understand” have better, happier relationships with others. If you are the person at the workplace who gives others the space to communicate fully and openly, co-workers and employees will be more likely to come to you with new ideas and include you in collaborative projects.
Tip: Resist the urge to think about what to say next. You’ll draw better conclusions after the other person has finished speaking. It takes time to truly understand someone’s meaning — what’s behind the words. Those who you work with will take notice, and you’ll soon have their sincere and valuable trust.
In the words of Lee Iacocca, former president and CEO of Chrysler Corporation,“Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”
Active listening is a key component of workplace productivity on several levels. Employers who fail to truly listen to their employees run the risk of losing them. Workers who don’t feel listened to are more likely to feel resentment at their job and seek other opportunities. A company that has outlets for employees to express themselves openly will be one with a greater employee retention rate.
Active listening improves the rate of workplace performance. When workers feel comfortable voicing ideas and opinions, the best ideas are free to gain traction with the group. The positivity of an environment that values listening works wonders for productivity in and of itself. Workers will feel more energized, focused, and less prone to distraction when they are participants in active listening. Also important — fewer misunderstandings means less “do-over” work.
TIP: Watch for non-verbal cues — body language and tone of voice. The speaker might have mixed emotions when saying something that, if written, would sound unambiguous. This might manifest in their eye movement, hand movements, or changes of tone.
Active Listening has a myriad of personal benefits. It reduces stress, as you let go of your personal agenda and worries when you truly listen. Allow yourself to be completely caught up in what the other is saying.
It also builds confidence. If you can patiently expand your perspective by taking in the thoughts and feelings of others, you become more secure in your own values and self of self. That confidence creates a positive feedback loop, as the speaker becomes more and more open in expressing themselves.
Tip: Encourage the speaker — make good eye contact, avoid any engaging in other activities at the time, ask questions that call for more detail.
Just a few simple tips will quickly start you on the path to active listening and all the benefits it has to offer. Remember to allow others to finish their thoughts before starting (or even collecting) your own; notice non-verbal clues, their tone of voice or body language; and encourage the speaker, through positive questions, eye contact, and focus.
Practice these tips at your workplace and notice any changes that take place. Pretty soon, you’ll be receiving more of value from those around you, simply because you were open to it.