Our ability to listen well is one of the most fundamental elements of good communication. To improve communication in the workplace with customers and colleagues, becoming an active listener is a critical skill to build and maintain successful relationships.

Active listening requires you to give your full, undivided attention to the person speaking. You use all of your senses to concentrate on what is being said, actively engaging in conversation, reflecting back whilst avoiding jumping in with judgment and advice.

Smiling, maintaining eye contact and mirroring the other person are all signs of active listening and help to make the speaker feel valued. It isn’t hard to see how this skill is the foundation for a successful conversation.

Active listening enables you to earn the trust of the speaker and understand their situation. It’s an important skill to use with customers in order to accurately grasp their needs, and alongside colleagues to ensure a productive working environment. It is different from critical listening in that it calls for a desire to really comprehend and share empathy with the other person. Your purpose is not to evaluate what they are saying with a view to offering your own critique and opinions. Much like a therapist working with a client, in active listening your goal should be to act as a sounding board for the other person to feel they have been properly heard to improve communication.

How can Active Listening improve communication in the workplace?

It isn’t hard to see how being truly present in a conversation offers many benefits. If you are in a position of management, being able to understand issues from another person’s viewpoint is a useful skill. Building trust and providing a platform where the other person feels they will be properly heard means they are more likely to talk to you about issues as they occur so that they can be dealt with swiftly and appropriately. Equally, every business relies on a customer base that feels valued. If you can demonstrate this in the way that you listen, you are far more likely to maintain their loyalty.

Signs you are not Actively Listening

In busy times with so many distractions, it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are actively listening when we’re not. Here are a few common signs to look out for which suggest you’re not practicing Active Listening and therefore risk leaving your speaker feeling undervalued and unimportant:

  1. Not making eye-contact
  2. Interrupting or rushing the speaker
  3. Daydreaming or becoming distracted (have you ever glanced down to check your mobile mid-conversation?)
  4.  Ignoring details you don’t understand
  5. Taking over the story with your own thoughts

Top tips for Active Listening:

  1. Make eye contact
  2. Paraphrase what you are being told to repeat back your understanding
  3. Look out for non-verbal indicators from the speaker. Their tone of voice, facial expressions or body language can often reveal more than words alone.
  4. Avoid daydreaming or planning your response before they have finished talking. Be patient because the last thing they say could change everything.
  5. Show interest by asking open-ended questions.
  6. Learn from the mistakes of others. Look out for when other people are actively listening and observe the benefits of when they are versus when they’re not.

Have you had experience with active listening to improve communication? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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