CAREER DEVELOPMENT / AUG. 21, 2014
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How to Become an Active Listener in the Workplace

There is a difference between listening and being an active listener. In the workplace, being an active listener is one of the most important skills that an individual can possess. The level of your listening capacity directly relates to how well you do your job and relate to colleagues. According to James Manktelow and Amy Carlson from MindTools.com, there are four basic reasons that we listen each day—to obtain information, to understand, to learn and for enjoyment. However, even though we listen so much throughout the day, Mr. Manktelow and Ms. Carlson advise that we may not be hearing what people are actually saying. This article will discuss advice from these experts in the communication field.

The Facts Behind Active Listening

According to research, we only “remember between 25 – 50% of what we hear.” Think for a moment about those statistics. When talking to your manager, coworkers, clients or family members for 10 minutes, these individuals only actually pay attention to less than half of the conversation. On the flip side, when you speak to others and receive instructions or are presented with facts, you don’t actively hear—and retain—all of the information either. (Source: MindTools) Manktelow and Carlson advise that by “becoming an active listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate.” Just imagine how many workplace conflicts and misunderstandings you can avoid by becoming an active listener.  

Steps on How to Become an Active Listener in the Workplace

According to Manktelow and Carlson, the best way to become an active listener is to practice. It takes diligence to make a conscious effort each day. The consultants from MindTools.com have shared that there are five steps to becoming an active listener. The basic goal is to genuinely listen to and understand your colleagues.

1. Make a Genuine Effort to Pay Attention

It is vital that you show the speaker that you are giving your undivided attention. Be sure that you acknowledge the message. There are nonverbal communciation signals that speak loudly.

  • Looking directly at the speaker and maintaining eye contact
  • Focusing on the conversation and setting aside distracting thoughts
  • Paying attention and not focusing on mentally preparing a rebuttal
  • Not becoming distracted by peripheral vision and side conversations
  • Making an effort to understand the speaker’s body language signals

2.  Demonstrate that You are Listening

Utilizing proper body language and gestures, demonstrates that you are listening and paying attention to the speaker. The following four examples demonstrate that you are listening.

  • Making an effort to nod occasionally during the conversation
  • Smiling and using other facial expressions to show your interest
  • Consciously making sure your posture is open and inviting
  • Using verbal comments like “yes” and “uh huh” to encourage the speaker

3. Always Provide Feedback to Show that You Listened

According to Manktelow and Carlson, “our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear.” The role of a listener is to genuinely comprehend what has been said.  During the conversation, you will need to process the information received and also ask questions.

  • Reflect on the conversation by saying, “what I understand is,” or “what I’m hearing is.”
  • Make sure you ask questions in order to clarify that you have understood the entire conversation.
  • Take the time to periodically summarize what the speaker is saying.

4. Hold Back Your Judgment

No one wants to talk with someone who constantly interrupts. It only causes frustration and hinders the proper flow of an effective conversation. Be sure to listen and hold back your judgment, while waiting for your chance to speak.

  • Don’t rush to interrupt, but permit the speaker to finish talking before asking any questions that you have.
  • Make sure that you do not interrupt the conversation simply in order to counter with an interruption. You will have your chance to speak. Be patient.

5. Only Respond When Appropriate

An active listener knows how to respond respectfully when it is appropriate. Such an individual is diligent at trying to understand the speaker. Actively listening means you are gaining information and a new perspective. According to Manktelow and Carlson, an unproductive listener gains “nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.”

  • Make every effort to be sincere and honest in your responses.
  • Professionally affirm your opinions with a respectful tone.
  • Obey the Golden Rule and treat the other person how you’d like to be treated.

Becoming an active listener in the workplace takes diligence, but will pay off with good returns. You will be better able to relate to your colleagues and be more productive in your job. If you follow the advice shared in this article from the MindTools.com experts, you will have an easier time in becoming an active listener. Make a genuine effort to pay attention and show that you are listening. Provide feedback, but be sure to hold back judgments and don’t interrupt. You will have your chance to speak.

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