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How often do you stop and truly listen to what your colleagues are saying?

Listening is actually a much more active process than you may think – it involves focus to truly concentrate on what people are saying without allowing other thoughts to invade.

I’m often told by managers that they wish they knew what their employees were thinking. Just as frequently, employees tell me that they wish their manager communicated better with them. Very often, both of these issues are solvable by improving both a willingness and ability to listen.

It’s a significantly important skill for fostering employee engagement, development and performance. Benefits are both individual and organisational – employees who are listened to have increased self-esteem and confidence, and decreased isolation and anxiety, whilst organisations gain staff with higher levels of motivation, reduced conflict and improved problem-solving capability. The CIPD reports that major logistics and manufacturer Unipart reported a 5% drop in absences after introducing a five-step process to help managers become better listeners.

Here are my top five tips for listening better to strengthen your relationships:

Learn Not to Interrupt

This may be one of the earliest lessons we learn as children, but the vast majority of people still talk over others. You’ll encounter two reactions if you do this: either the speaker will stop what they’re saying to listen to you, which will cripple the true nature of their communication, or they’ll continue speaking and neither of you will be listening to the other. Tempting though it might be, give someone the respect of uninterrupted communication.

Focus, Don’t Judge

You’re not interrupting your colleague, well done! But are you truly concentrating on what they’re saying? Or are you mentally preparing your response? We’re all able to process words spoken by others very quickly – often much quicker than they can verbalise the information – and this provides us with a lot of time to analyse the speaker’s thoughts, and also to anticipate them. Try to avoid doing this until the speaker has finished – learn to recognise the triggers that cause you stop listening, and reserve judgement and consideration until all comments have been made and you have the whole picture to take into consideration.

Look for Non-Verbal Clues

We all know that non-verbal communication is important – the 7 / 38 / 55 rule shows us the power of tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%) as opposed to words (7%) in conveying a message. Make sure you listen with all your senses – concentrate on the speaker’s tone of voice, as well as their facial expressions, eye contact and body language. Does their non-verbal language support or contradict what their words are saying?

Demonstrate your attentiveness

A listener can use non-verbal communication skills just as effectively as a speaker can, and they are a very useful way of demonstrating attentiveness. Control your reactions – maintain eye contact, nod and lean towards your speaker. Make short, non-intrusive comments or paraphrases which affirm your understanding without affecting the flow of their speech. Get rid of other distractions to maintain focus on your speaker and show them they have your attention – if they feel you are listening and truly understanding their message, they’re more likely to be honest and open.

Make Listening a Priority

As both an employee and a leader, listening should be at the top of your list. Adopt a mindset of co-creation – that you don’t have all the answers, that your colleagues are equally smart and valuable, and that listening to them is the best way of solving problems and driving innovation – and listening will become as natural as speaking.