Listening is about more than simply being quiet. To actively listen is something that offers true value in business, and in today’s increasingly digital era where video conferencing has replaced in-person connection and email has replaced phone calls, it’s something that can set you apart.
Leaders need to be able to listen and take note of what’s being said, and it’s something that’s gaining increased importance. Here, we look at what makes a great listener and why it’s essential in business.
The value of active listening
Active listening in leadership is a vital skill to boost team performance. Leaders who take too much of an authoritarian approach to their role could cause staff to be too afraid to communicate with them. It can be stressful to speak up, only to feel unacknowledged. Leaders who want to build a team of people devoted to their work and passionate about where they work need to prioritise listening and really take on board what their employees are saying. It’s only through actively listening to staff that those in senior positions can act on feedback, increasing your capacity as a leader. Positive change can only come from effective listening and broadening the range of perspectives you listen to.
Active listening shows you care about others and that you empathise with what they’re saying, which is something that staff really value in a job. After all, no one wants to work for a business when they don’t feel they’re a valued member of the team. Showing someone that you care about them and that you’re listening to what they’re saying creates a culture of trust and commitment.
Many staff feel more and more that their thoughts or opinions aren’t taken on board in their company, and with more of us working remotely or taking on hybrid roles, it’s easy for communication to fall to the wayside. Rather than chatting in the kitchen or catching up in team meetings, we’re alone more, and there’s less of a focus on building and nurturing relationships. Leaders need to take this into account when prioritising employee wellbeing, now more than ever in a post-pandemic world where digital tools play an even larger part in our working lives.
In addition to understanding your employees and colleagues better, listening gives you the chance to understand your business. Clients are one of the best sources you’ll have for feedback, enabling you to plan strategies more effectively and create solutions tailored to the business’s demands. You’ll have the knowledge and insights you need to understand the day-to-day realities of your customers and staff, so you can make adjustments as needed, which is incredibly important.
How to be a better listener
So, how can you reap the rewards of being a better listener?
Firstly, develop your active listening skills. Most of us prioritise talking in a conversation, but we need to develop the ability to listen without necessarily thinking of what we’re going to respond with next. Being an active listener means shifting your focus onto what the other person is saying and really hearing them. It also means paying attention to their body language (something that requires more attention on Skype or Zoom) and not interrupting with your thoughts or opinions.
While you don’t want to interrupt, you also need to invest in the conversation. Good listeners know how to ask the right questions because they’re truly paying attention to what’s being said and not said. They can connect it all to the bigger picture and make connections that might otherwise be missed. Instead of sticking to the basic yes and no questions, get to the heart of the matter and focus on questions that delve more into the where, why’s and hows.
Divided attention shows disrespect and a lack of focus, and it’s certainly not a feature of a great listener. If you’re scanning the room, checking your phone or reading a document while you’re talking to someone, you’re clearly not paying attention to what they’re saying. Whether in person or online, make sure that the people you’re speaking to have your full attention and keep distractions to a minimum.
Develop emotional intelligence
Digital tools are useful for so many tasks, but they’re also devoid of emotional intelligence, which can often be to the detriment of a team dynamic. Emotional intelligence is essential for problem-solving and decision-making. Computers only see things in black and white, and decisions often require more than that. It’s also an essential element of having empathy for other people to develop a deeper understanding of situations. In an automated world, everything loses a human touch, but that level of emotion is still critical to how we operate and deliver better experiences for others.
In business, regardless of the industry you work in, listening is a skill worth developing and improving. In our digital era, it’s easy for communication to be focused on putting messages out into the world, but to really understand your business, your clients and your staff, listening is essential. You need to have the ability to recognise and empathise with other people. It helps others feel respected and understood, which can go far in the workplace.