How to Improve Active Listening Skills in the Workplace

BY Tim Londergan
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I was fitted with hearing aids about 4 years ago. Like many in my age group, I have difficulty hearing certain tones, low talkers or sorting out crowded conversations. Prior to getting help, I compensated by paying close attention to those who were speaking. However, I would struggle to consciously analyze what I heard to pick up on their intent, content and emotions. It was exhausting! But as it turns out, I was practicing active listening.

Relationships benefit from active listening

Active listening is an essential step in building rapport with your clients and prospects. Furthermore, showing that you are listening is a great way to keep people talking. When your prospect knows they are being heard, they will likely share more details which you can use to your advantage. Additionally, listening can calm a tense situation and allow others to vent their frustrations without escalation. It is a valuable skill that can help with your career advancement.

Listening techniques improve communication and further your career

According to Coursera​.org, active listening is a trainable skill that can improve over time as you interact with different people. Sometimes called "reflective listening," this methodology was developed by psychologists in the 1950’s. Overall, it is an “attempt to demonstrate unconditional acceptance and unbiased reflection.” Interestingly, demand for social and emotional skills in the workplace is projected to grow by more than 20% between 2016 and 2030 according to a study by McKinsey.

Active listening is an essential sales skill

Most of the techniques to improve listening are consistent with the best practices of selling. For instance, seeking to gain your target’s perspective is key to understanding their needs. Demonstrating interest in their views and asking probing questions uncovers objections. Importantly, when you encourage the respondent to expand their thoughts you speak less and learn more. Finally, you can summarize what you heard and paraphrase their response to assure them that clear communication has occurred. Paying full attention and absorbing what your prospect is saying capitalizes on the value of your exchange.

Active listening requires mindfulness

The Coursera article stresses the importance of being respectful and aware of the present moment. The authors suggest a focus on the intent and purpose of the conversation. Moreover, you must refrain from daydreaming and avoid interrupting the flow of conversation. An authentic connection between speaker and listener is the goal.

The importance of body language

You should be aware of the conscious and unconscious gestures and movements that convey important information. These may be facial expressions, posture, hand gestures, eye contact, and touch. Surprisingly, research shows that 55% of communication is non-​verbal, 38% is vocal and 7% words only. According to the article, “reading body language can be like learning a second language and can help separate perception from reality.”

Mind your own non-​verbal cues

Although it is helpful to paraphrase and summarize what you’ve heard, it is imperative that you show non-​verbal cues as well. Smiling, making eye contact, nodding, and mirroring send strong signals of acceptance. When you physically lean in toward the speaker or remove obstacles between you, you demonstrate an unspoken openness and approval.

Active listening matters

As I struggled with my hearing loss I often felt left out or poorly prepared to participate in the conversation. My hearing aids helped me recover and gave me confidence. However, I continue to practice many of the techniques and believe that I am a better listener for the effort. Active listening helps you collaborate more effectively, negotiate more successfully, and build positive working relationships. People who listen attentively make better first impressions, increase credibility, and gain the respect of their associates in all walks of life.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash