The Art of Attentive Listening

Most people think that to become a good communicator they have to focus on becoming great speakers, but listening is just as important as speaking in the communication process. Whether you’re dealing with coworkers, managers, or clients, being a good speaker and a great listener are crucial workplace skills. Our ability to listen properly can give us insight into the rationale behind decisions and a better understanding of what the speaker is trying to accomplish.

Yet being a good listener isn’t always easy. Studies have shown that the average person can only remember 50% of what they’ve heard straight after they’ve heard it. Another study has shown that only 10% of the initial message communicated is retained after 3 days. The reason for these shocking stats is that most of us think of listening as a passive process that requires no effort.

Often, we listen to the words being said without truly grasping the meaning behind them. This is usually because we’re focused on our own internal dialogue rather than what the speaker is actually saying. Sometimes we don’t pay attention because we’re daydreaming while someone is talking – we all have so much on our plates that it can be difficult to quiet our minds long enough to really listen to someone. Or we may have a pre-conceived bias against either the speaker or the topic that shuts our ears to what’s being said.

Whatever the reasons we struggle with being good listeners, honing that skill can have a lot of benefits. Here are the top 8 reasons to create a workplace where employees both listen and are heard. Listening better to one another can:

  1. Build relationships. Attentive listening can help your workforce come closer together. And as communications improve among employees, so will their teamwork, leading to increased productivity and business.
  2. Foster learning. The art of listening is about finding out what the speaker thinks about something. When employees listen to one another, they learn from one another. A free flow of ideas that are truly listened to can lead to a workplace where employees are constantly learning from each other.
  3. Encourage respect. Respect is crucial in any workplace. Fostering attentive listening can help establish respect, as managers and employers listen not only to their employees’ ideas but also to their issues or concerns.
  4. Establish a culture of communication. By fostering attentive listening, you establish a company culture in which employees know how to speak and listen to one another. This raises the communication expectations between employers and employees.
  5. Facilitate conflict resolution. When issues or conflicts arise, listening is essential to clarifying disagreements. Attentive listening helps employees get to the root of a problem, come up with solutions, and decide the best course of action to take.
  6. Promote open-mindedness. Employees all have different viewpoints. Encouraging them to listen to each other can help promote an environment of open-mindedness and inclusion, where everyone can feel that their opinions are heard and valued.
  7. Further progress. Employees are more likely to be creative and share their ideas if they feel they are listened to and their ideas are taken into account. Actively listening to employees’ input can reinforce the acceptance of future contributions.
  8. Improve decisions. Making decisions and judgments based on assumptions can cause many workplace problems. By encouraging attentive listening, you will find that employees are more likely to ask questions, clarify understanding, and make better decisions based on a more accurate understanding of a given situation.

Encouraging good listening helps employees work together better as a team, and promotes innovative thinking and more effective communication. Here are some of the basics of attentive listening.

  • Make eye contact. Looking directly at the person who’s speaking is a clear way to indicate you’re paying attention to him or her. Looking away, even if you’re still listening, will make it seem like you’re distracted or not interested.
  • Make appropriate facial expressions. Nodding, tilting your head, smiling – all of these expressions show a response to what the speaker is saying, which indicates that you’re grasping the meaning and are interested in what he or she’s saying.
  • Ask questions. Critical listening involves asking questions to get all the information. When you ask the speaker a question, it also drives the conversation and shows that you’re interested in clarification and understanding the issues.
  • Don’t interrupt. Although it’s good to ask questions, try not to interrupt the speaker. Let the person complete his or her thoughts before responding or asking questions.
  • Paraphrase. When you restate, in your own words, what the speaker is saying, you prove that you’re listening carefully – after all, you wouldn’t be able to repeat anything if you weren’t paying attention.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you become a more effective listener, which is more than half of what it takes to be a really good communicator.

Eric Friedman

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of online skills testing for pre-employment assessment and benchmarking. Eric has degrees in Psychology and Business, and a fascination with matching people with roles they're best at, and that they enjoy.

4 Comments

  • AvatarSandra Swallows says:

    I’ve always thought of myself as a great listener until I came across a situation when I was communicating my ideas and I felt I wasn’t heard. It was the first time when I actually asked myself “Am I a Good Listener?” After having the courage to acknowledge to myself that I was not – I started working on improving this skill by really paying attention to what the person was saying.

  • AvatarJim Hungers says:

    I agree with Sarah that the most difficult thing is to acknowledge the problem. But after this you start working on improving your skills and become a better professional. I also like sharing my personal experience with others, so that they can learn something from me or at least stop for a moment and ask themselves: Do I really have all the skills necessary for a good communication?

  • AvatarLarisa Ştefana Mihalache says:

    This is a very useful article for anyone. I think the most important communication problems have the inability of listening as a specific cause. The area in which we activate shouldn’t matter when it comes to organizing communication training – sessions. I think they’re extremely helpful for any organization!

  • AvatarRebeca Stears says:

    We often forget that communication is a two-way process – it’s not only about communicating one’s ideas, but also about careful listening. While listening to others, I always paraphrase some sentences or ask follow-up questions to make sure that I didn’t miss any piece of information.

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