Is active listening the key to creating a good work environment?

Sure, you're hearing them out, but are you really listening?

Harper's Bazaar India

Do you get annoyed when someone cuts you off mid-sentence? Or when you’re trying to explain something important to them and they are distracted by their phone? In a professional setting, these things can fester and eventually hamper the overall environment. But there is a simple solution—active listening. When you listen to someone, and we mean really focus on what they are saying by being present in that moment, you get to know them better. Doing so in a professional environment helps foster better relationships with your colleagues, boosts productivity, and even helps avoid unnecessary conflicts.

What is active listening? 

Just because you hear someone speaking, doesn’t mean you’re actually listening to them. Picture this: your colleague is talking to you about a new project they’ve taken on, but while you seem to be listening to them and nod along, your mind drifts off to your own two-kilometre-long task list. Sometimes, this is inevitable. However, actively listening to your colleague and contributing to the conversation fosters effective communication. And this is what active listening is all about. It is a skill that allows you to communicate more effectively. You’re paying close attention not only to what the other person is saying but also to their facial expressions, body language, and the intent behind their words. The objective is to learn to see things from another’s perspective. 

Benefits of active listening 

Builds trust and strong relationships  

Just like romantic relationships, the bond with your co-workers and manager is based on trust. You have to be able to rely on them to help you, guide you, and not make you a scapegoat when things go wrong. This trust is not just given, it is earned. People who listen to what their colleagues are saying and communicate effectively and empathically forge better working relationships as opposed to those who interrupt you and don’t pay attention to any other ideas or perspectives. Active listening can help you build trust and relationships that extend outside the office. 

Aids in conflict resolution  

When you spend a lot of time in close proximity with others, conflicts are likely to arise. Misunderstandings and lack of transparency can lead to a squabble with a colleague or your manager (unless you’re a brown noser). A lot of the time though, even the most solvable conflicts can blow way out of proportion. One way to avoid that is by consciously paying attention to what the other has to say. It’s important to actively listen to the other person’s viewpoint and try to understand where they are coming from, even if you disagree. This will enable you to see the problem from different standpoints and come to a solution that doesn’t cause anyone to hold a grudge.  

Paying attention to what people are saying can help you identify misunderstandings and resolve them. It’s rare for anything to be lost in translation when both people are fully present in the moment.

Increases productivity

The simple act of active listening can result in increased productivity and better decision-making abilities. How? When people are fully present in a conversation they can process information better and come up with innovative ideas to solve any obstacles instead of getting stuck and distracted. It helps to see things from different perspectives and to have a team that acts as each other’s sounding boards. This way active listening in the workplace can increase productivity. 

Everyone feels heard

Are you looking to better your team’s overall communication? If you haven’t guessed already, active listening is the tool to put to use. When people feel heard and they know that their ideas, suggestions and problems will be heard, they are prone to give the work their all. They can then easily overcome small obstacles and focus on bigger goals. 

At the end of the day, it’s not about merely listening to someone and nodding about. It’s about hearing them out and fully supporting what they are saying. This means paying attention to their body language and facial expressions and not getting distracted by your phone every five seconds.

If you’re sold on the importance of active listening in the workplace, here are some techniques to put it into action. 

PS: These have the potential to benefit you in other areas of your life as well.  

Techniques for active listening 

Pay attention to non-verbal cues   

Facial expressions, gestures, and the tone of one’s voice speak as loudly as their words do. For instance, are they looking down while talking to you? Or do they have their arms crossed defensively? Or is their voice shaking like they are about to cry? Or are they smiling and bubbly? 

Paying attention to all these details can tell you a lot about what the other person is trying to say. 

Maintain eye contact  

Eye contact conveys that you are present and engaged in the conversation. It tells the other person that you are interested in what they are saying and aren’t distracted by anything else. But you have to remember that constant eye contact can weird the other person out. To prevent this from happening, look away every few seconds before meeting their eyes again. Don’t force it, let it happen naturally. 

Ask open-ended questions  

When someone is telling you something important, always ask follow-up questions. But ensure that they are open-ended and not simple “yes” or “no” questions since these can be a conversation killer. Instead, use questions like “Can you tell me more” or “Why do you think this happened” etc, which suggest genuine interest and let you understand the person and the situation better. And if you can relate, wait until they’ve finished speaking to add your bit to the conversation. Never cut them off. 

Refrain from judgement  

A part of active listening is creating a safe and comfortable space for someone to share their ideas, thoughts, and concerns. This means you have to refrain from judging or shaming them. If you don’t agree with what they are saying, hear them out and try to understand their perspective before putting your point across.

Feature image: Pexels

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