By Sharon Krueger and Julie Barbour
There was one point in my career when I was at the top of my learning curve and wanted to seek other avenues to pursue. I needed help processing my thoughts that had no pattern or form. I could not find a way to move forward, so I met with my mentor numerous times during this season of unrest.
Each time we met, she patiently listened without judgment and asked clarifying questions when needed. She could sift through my jumbled thoughts to get to the root of what I was thinking and feeling. This provided a safe environment for me to process my thoughts. She also gave me valuable feedback, direction, and connected me with others who could help. This process brought me closer to a place of clarity in the direction I wanted my career to go.
As a result of her ability to keenly listen, her guidance enabled me to find a new job that was a great fit for me; one in which I thrived.
How can we develop better listening skills in the workplace?
Listening is a skill that can improve with practice. Keep in mind the following tips as you work to develop good listening skills and increase the impact you have on others:
1. Desire to grow
Truly listening is a choice and so is growing in your listening skills (2). Decide that this is an area worthy of the work it takes to improve. Keep in mind the possible benefits that can be realized from improving your listening skills - deeper connections with others, improving office communication, enhancing productivity, and increasing the overall office morale are benefits related to good listening skills.
2. Be present
Shut out distractions and offer your undivided attention. Waiting to return emails or phone calls until after your interactions will let the speaker know that what they have to say is important to you and, at that moment, they are your priority. By doing so, you will empower the speaker and it adds dividends to a positive work environment in the form of their increase in self-esteem (3).
3. Pay attention to the nonverbals
We convey an openness to learning with our bodies long before we say a word from our mouths. Be aware of body positioning, both yours and theirs, to communicate that you not only care about them, but you desire to understand the significance of what they are sharing. Observing their body language can offer insight into underlying emotions and can serve to illuminate the deeper meaning behind each interaction.
4. Engage both your head and the heart
Show that you understand what is being communicated by repeating or paraphrasing what you have heard or by asking follow-up questions. Additionally, listen for the underlying feelings being expressed. This is an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and communicates a heart level understanding of what is being shared. Empathy breeds connection and lets the speaker know that you are willing to emotionally share in their experience (1).
5. Take care of yourself
Good listening skills require giving of yourself. So, practicing good self-care is essential to becoming a good listener. Paying attention to your need for sleep, good nutrition, and mental and emotional health is necessary for meeting the listening needs of others. Without taking care of yourself, efforts to truly listen to others can feel like pouring from an empty cup...there just isn’t anything to give.
The mentors and role models in our lives can impact us greatly. Yet, for them to have the level of impact that gains traction in our lives, they need to become great listeners first. Being a great listener is a precursor to fostering growth in others. It allows us to customize opportunities that will create the most impact and help others to move past their roadblocks and ultimately thrive.
Ames, D., Maissen, L., & Brockner, J. (2012). The role of listening in interpersonal influence. Journal of Research in Personality, 46 (3) pp. 345-349.
Worthington, D. & Fitch-Hauser, M. (2018). Listening. New York, NY: Routledge
Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2016). What Great Listeners Actually Do. Harvard Business School. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do
I had the pleasure of co-authoring this post with Julie Barbour who is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist currently working at Chapman University where she provides psychological counseling for graduate students studying at the Rinker Health Science Campus. Additionally, Julie operates a private practice, meeting with individuals and families, offering meaningful therapeutic interventions that assist in the process of change.
Julie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s start a conversation!
1. How have you been impacted by someone who truly listened to you?
2. Which listening tips stood out to you the most and how can they be applied to your life?