Active listening is a valuable workplace skill because it improves understanding of the message being shared. Practicing active listening helps us retain what others are saying and can help build stronger relationships as a result. Active listeners reserve judgement, embrace curiosity, and leave people feeling heard and understood.
Unfortunately, active listening isn’t always a practiced in every conversation. But wouldn’t it be nice if everyone we talked to showed interest in what we were saying and remembered what we said?
When someone isn’t listening, hearing, or trying to understand what I am saying, I start to question whether they truly care.
I once had a manager who gave me the impression that he was never listening to what I said – it was like he was waiting for his turn to speak. Naturally, this soured our relationship and ultimately caused me to become disengaged in my role.
When someone isn’t listening, hearing, or trying to understand what I am saying, I start to question whether they truly care. And why would I want to do good work for manager who doesn’t care about me?
Why don’t we always use active listening?
Surely my manager knew that active listening is a healthy leadership attribute, but why didn’t he make it a priority? Quite simply, listening can be hard!
Research tells us that we only remember about 50% of what somebody says. And, within 2 days we only remember about 25% of what was said. A great example of this is being introduced to someone only to immediately forget their name.
We are often distracted with our busy minds, and it’s not always easy to slow down our thoughts enough to truly listen. These distractions can interfere with our listening capabilities and are not just external. In fact, research tells us that we have over 6,000 thoughts per day – no wonder we have challenges listening to others!
Passive listening requires little effort, low engagement, and can give others the impression that you don’t care about what they’re saying.
In addition to all those thoughts you may have, other listening barriers include our interest in the topic, our relationship with the speaker, or even our desire to improve at listening. When we encounter these barriers, it’s important to catch ourselves and commit to paying attention to the person speaking. Otherwise we run the risk of passive listening, or hearing without understanding. Passive listening requires little effort, low engagement, and can give others the impression that you don’t care about what they’re saying.
Why does active listening matter?
Our ability to understand and to make ourselves understood is a basic human need. Without it, we don’t get very far because we crave connection. If somebody doesn’t truly “get” us, we’re likely to not get along, just like me and my previous manager.
Active listening plays a large role in helping us understand one another and can have a positive impact on team relationships and results. Improving knowledge, resolving conflict, and building trust are just some benefits of being a better listener.
What do we need to do to improve our ability to listen?
It starts with our desire to listen. Once a decision has been made to improve listening/retention, you will be more likely to hold yourself accountable to obtaining your goal.
Some effective techniques to improve both short- and long-term memory include:
- Making a conscious effort to remove distractions
- Organizing the information you receive
- Connecting new information to what you already know
- Saying it out loud
- Modifying your routine
- Resting well
While applying these techniques, we must also ensure that we are showing the other person that we are hearing what they’re saying. Being a good listener is one thing, but showing others that we are a good listener is the final step. A great way to do this is to reduce passive listening and increase active listening through a technique that involves encouraging, asking, and restating (E.A.R.):
- Encourage the speaker by showing interest, (such as maintaining eye contact, nodding our head, and saying “Mm-hmm”).
- Ask the speaker a question based on what they have just said (probing deeper and getting more details).
- Restate their message back to them by summarizing the key points or feelings.
Practicing the E.A.R. technique can help us stay interested while showing the speaker that we’re interested and listening to what they have to say. The next time you are listening to someone speak, try using E.A.R. You may find that people will be more willing to talk with you because they know you care. If my previous manager had practiced this, he may have kept an engaged and loyal employee.
Being a good listener is one thing, but showing others that we are a good listener is the final step.
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