Active listening in the workplace doesn’t just make people feel better about themselves and their environment — it can have a serious financial impact.
How many of your people practice active listening in the workplace? Once considered one of the soft skills that business managers looked down on, active listening has become a treasure that hiring managers search for. They look for it when vetting potential employees and when considering existing employees for promotion. This is because active listening works. It helps employees as well as customers feel valued.
This kind of listening builds mutual trust, and that helps to reduce the kind of misunderstandings that can hinder productivity. In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of active listening and give an example of how it can pay dividends in the workplace.
This kind of listening builds mutual trust, and that helps to reduce the kind of misunderstandings that can hinder productivity.
The benefits of active listening
Practicing and using active listening skills has countless advantages. For example, by using this easy-to-learn tool, you will be more likely to hear some new ideas that may help you better innovate in your competitive marketplace. You’ll also be better able to take care of your customers, and you won’t fail to hear the type of direct questions that need to be answered to get a project completed on time. Active listening:
- Builds rapport between colleagues.
- Helps in conflict resolution.
- Assures clear communication and understanding.
- Improves your ability to pick up on nonverbal cues.
- Prevents misunderstandings and project delays.
An active listening example
Here’s an example of the value of active listening in the workplace. Joe has noticed a hang-up on the manufacturing floor: one of the machines is too close to another machine. It creates a bottleneck between the machines that slows down the manufacturing process. Moving that machine 2 feet to the right would solve the problem, but the machine would have to be taken out of service for 4 hours while it’s moved, calibrated, tested, and restarted.
If you, as the manager, are passively hearing the suggestion, you’re mostly listening to your own thoughts. But you do catch the phrase “4-hour shutdown” and immediately dismiss the idea. You know a 4-hour shutdown could result in a productivity loss of about $50,000! You tell Joe that and quickly end the conversation. But you missed one of the key points. Joe was going to say that he thought that moving the machine over 2 feet would improve productivity by about 10% and you would make up that $50,000 in a little more than a day. After that, you would get your products built faster, meet your deadlines more easily, and boost profits.
Besides the missed opportunity for the company, Joe might feel resentment over that exchange. Because your listening skills were so bad, he never got to finish what he was going to say. Joe may never bring another innovative idea to your attention — but he might bring them to your boss. Being a better listener would have helped you, Joe, and your company.
Listen actively, not passively
Being an active listener means paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues so that you can provide the proper feedback.
Being an active listener means paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues so that you can provide the proper feedback. In the above example, you could have said, “Now, wait a minute, Joe. You know that shutting the machines down will cost us more than $12,000 an hour. On our tight deadlines and with our tight profit margins, I’m not sure we can handle a 4-hour shutdown.”
And if you were paying attention, you would have seen that Joe wasn’t done. By maintaining eye contact and noticing his facial expressions, you would have realized that he had more to say. Active listening would have alerted you to his body language, and you would have given him a chance to respond to your point.
People fail to acquire information when they don’t really pay attention to the person talking. If you had used active listening techniques, you would have learned the key elements of Joe’s message. He had really thought things through, done some math, and figured that this one little change could bring the company an additional $44,640 in revenue every day. Successful communication has real value.
Listen, then respond
Effective communication means listening, listening, listening. And then processing what you heard. And then, maybe, responding. To help with this process, it’s important to avoid smartphones and other distractions when you are communicating with someone. Focus all your attention on that person. Avoid interrupting, other than by giving short verbal affirmations like “Please continue” and “I like the way this sounds — go on.” You can make this kind of listening even more effective by making eye contact, by keeping your posture open and inviting, and by not crossing your arms or legs or slouching.
Once the individual has finished speaking, take a moment to process the information. Then, provide feedback or ask for more clarification. Communicating in this manner will make you a better listener; it will make anyone who talks to you feel that they are valued. By actively listening, you’ll create a culture of trust and inclusion.
Real communication is a 2-way process. It involves using soft skills and paying attention to subtle cues in order to know when to give those short verbal affirmations and when to respond fully. It can take some practice and maybe even a little bit of training to get it right, but once you have achieved effective listening, you’ll notice that you are developing a better workplace culture, improved idea sharing, and better conflict resolution. To learn more about how to make your verbal and nonverbal communication more effective, check out more in Workest from Zenefits.