• Jeff Doolittle

Chances Are, You Are Not as Good at Actively Listening as You Think

Being truly heard is rare in today's fast-paced digital workplace. Listening is a life-changing gift that every leader can give. Actively listening to employees leaves them feeling valued, affirmed, and connected emotionally with you. Being heard creates safety in the leader-follower relationship and is essential to establishing trust. Listening eases tensions and makes productive conflict work where resentment exists. Although being listened to is not commonly experienced in the workforce, listening is a leadership talent developed through practice.

Rushing from meeting to meeting in the crisis-driven workplace leaves many leaders just getting by when it comes to listening. Most conversations leaders have rarely go below the surface. Leaders talk in bullet points using 140 characters or less when possible, resulting in the leader's focus on the words rather than their meaning.

Additionally, the hybrid workplace has not helped leaders listen. Leaders communicating with a remote workforce receive less context and fewer cues due to the limitations of technology. And all of this is happening at a time when leadership trust is declining in society and employees are not feeling heard in the workplace.

The good news for you is that assessing, developing, and practicing your active listening skills can set you apart from your competition and be a competitive advantage for an organization.

Active listening meaning

Actively listening is your ability to hear and improve mutual understanding. Hearing is not a synonym for listening. When you actively listen, you pay attention, show interest, suspend judgment, reflect, clarify, summarize, and share to gain clarity and understanding. When you are practicing active listening, you are available to the other person.

Suspending judgment can be tricky for leaders pressed for time. Leaders are used to fixing problems quickly, so slowing down can be very challenging. The goal of active listening is to hear the other person. Try to understand before you try to be understood. Listening does not mean agreement.

Clarifying involves asking open-ended, probing, and clarifying questions. A good starting question is to ask, what's on your mind? And follow it up with asking, and what else? You might be amazed at what you learn.

Actively listening doesn't mean only listening and asking questions. It would be best to share your thoughts, ideas, feelings, and suggestions after you believe you have heard the employee. The part of sharing many leaders struggle with is communicating their emotions. For example, using statements like, "You aren't the only one feeling that way," or "I felt similarly "helps connect emotionally with the employee.