Effective Listening For Leaders

Internal discussions about employee communication often focus on the words to use. Companies often tell leaders and managers what to say, and the right responses to give to particular questions. You may tell your leaders what needs to be communicated, and even when to say it - but the directive to listen to team members is often overlooked entirely.

When effective listening is in place, your managers provide a safe, encouraging, and engaged workforce where your employees feel understood. Active listening skills are crucial for fostering the type of workforce you need to keep employees happy, avoid unionization, and grow your company year after year.  

The Definition of Effective Listening

Effective listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and then respond to what they hear. It is an effective way to build rapport, trust, and relationships with others. In order to practice active listening, the listener must be fully present and engaged with the speaker. This means maintaining eye contact, being aware of body language, and resisting the urge to interrupt or offer solutions before fully understanding the problem.

It can be difficult to truly listen to someone, especially if you feel like you have the answer to their problem. However, effective listening is a skill that can be learned and practiced. By making a conscious effort to understand what others are saying, you can build better relationships, resolve conflict, and create a more effective workplace.

Effective Listening In The Workplace

When it comes to effective communication in the workplace, listening is just as important as speaking. In fact, many experts believe that good listening skills are critical for success in any field. There are a number of reasons why effective listening is so important in the workplace. First, it allows you to build strong relationships with your co-workers. Good communication is the foundation of any strong relationship, and effective listening is key to good communication.

Second, effective listening can help you increase employee engagement by avoiding misunderstandings and conflict. Miscommunication is often the root cause of conflict, and by taking the time to truly listen to what others are saying, you can avoid misunderstandings. Employee engagement - and the culture it inspires - is largely the product of good communication practices, from the CEO down to local managers. Gallup found that day-to-day engagement is filtered mostly through local managers because it's impossible for a CEO to personally engage each employee. Primary engagement influence emanates from the tone the managers set each week. Communication, including regular feedback, is a key engagement practice, and effective communication requires good listening skills.

Leaders who truly know how to listen, foster employee engagement by demonstrating empathy - in short, they're able to respond in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, many leaders aren't listening - they're too busy readying themselves with the "right" response while the employee is talking. Your leaders may be missing out on an opportunity to support, motivate, improve, and connect with employees.

Finally, effective listening is essential for effective leadership. Leaders need to be able to understand the needs and concerns of their team members in order to be effective. Good listening skills allow leaders to gather the information they need to make decisions that will benefit the whole team. 

How to Practice Effective Listening

The challenge to developing high-quality listening skills is learning to maintain focus on what the other person is saying for the entire time the person is talking. There are many reasons your leaders don't listen well. They may initially not like what the employee is saying so they begin forming an opinionated response. Sometimes people get excited about their own ideas, cutting other people off midstream during a conversation. There are managers who simply don't put enough value on what their employees have to say, missing out on opportunities to understand their concerns or issues. People also get busy and constantly think about the multiple things that need to be done, meaning they have difficulty focusing on the present.

If you want to start practicing effective listening at work, there are a few things you can do:

  1. First, make a conscious effort to be present and engaged when others are speaking. This means putting away your phone, maintaining eye contact, and resisting the urge to interrupt or offer solutions before fully understanding the problem.
  2. Second, focus on understanding what others are saying. This means paying attention to both the words that are spoken and the nonverbal cues, such as body language and tone of voice.
  3. Third, take the time to respond thoughtfully to what you have heard. This means summarizing what you have heard and reflecting back your understanding of the situation. By taking the time to truly listen to others, you can build better relationships, resolve conflict, and create a more effective workplace.

Active listening means letting the other person finish thoughts, observing their body language, concentrating on what the person is saying, and asking questions to clarify understanding. Managers who haven't mastered the art of listening are likely missing critical information needed to make good decisions, engage employees, and solve problems. For example, your employee wants to discuss safety issues. The entire time the employee is talking, the manager is telling himself the employee is a "complainer." The employee recognizes inattentive pat answers, so seeks out a union representative to discuss workplace conditions. The union representative is happy to listen to what your employee has to say.

3 Different Types of Communication Barriers and How to Overcome Them

There are a number of things that can get in the way of effective communication. Here are three common communication barriers and how to overcome them:

One common barrier to effective communication is noise. Noise can come from both external sources (such as traffic or construction) and internal sources (such as our own thoughts). To overcome this barrier, it is important to find a quiet place to talk, or to use headphones if you are on the phone.

Another common barrier is language. If you and the person you are communicating with do not speak the same language, it can be difficult to understand each other. To overcome this barrier, it is important to use simple words and sentences, and to avoid jargon.

Finally, emotional barriers can get in the way of effective communication. If you are feeling angry, anxious, or stressed, it can be difficult to communicate effectively. To overcome this barrier, it is important to take a deep breath and try to relax before beginning a conversation. 

The Importance of Nonverbal Communication in Effective Listening

Nonverbal communication is a critical part of effective listening. By paying attention to nonverbal cues, such as body language and tone of voice, you can better understand what the other person is saying. Body language can also give you clues about how the other person is feeling. For example, if someone crosses their arms or avoids eye contact, they may be feeling defensive. Paying attention to these cues can help you better understand the situation and respond accordingly.

Tone of voice is also important. The tone of someone's voice can give you clues about their emotional state. For example, if someone sounds angry or upset, they may not be open to hearing what you have to say. By paying attention to both the words that are spoken and the nonverbal cues, you can better understand what the other person is saying and respond in a way that is helpful and effective.

Good Listeners Are Good Leaders

Managers who are good listeners are more likely to earn the respect of employees, grasp the innovative ideas of frontline people, and gain increased employee cooperation. Active listening involves asking questions to drill down to the real message or to explore new concepts. Asking questions encourages employees to raise issues the manager may not be familiar with and to clarify or justify the desired outcome. Compare the statement, "You may have a good idea. Can you tell me more?" to "I already thought about this."

Effective listening requires your leaders to recognize that coworkers and employees have something of value to say. Also, listening means not discouraging speakers by multi-tasking with technology or anything else. Technology is embedded in work environments, but a dinging smartphone or email system is a distraction. Looking away from the person you're talking to in order to glance at a message breaks the connection between the speaker and the listener.

Many factors influence the level of employee engagement an organization achieves. Listening is one of them. A poll of professional workers indicated 64 percent of employees say their leaders make decisions without getting input from them. Employees who feel excluded are disengaged and more likely to unionize or find a new job. There are many ways to communicate today, and the same principles apply. It doesn't matter if people are communicating in person or via social media or various enterprise or web-based programs. Listening means giving the message the attention it deserves, asking questions, and giving and receiving feedback based on what is being said.

Train My Leaders To Be Effective Listeners

Our A Better Leader course titled, "Effective Listening" will provide hands-on, effective, and powerful training for your managers and leaders. This self-paced e-learning has been utilized by thousands of leaders to improve listening skills and therefore increase employee engagement. Here is a brief summary of what is discussed in this lesson module:

  • Explore the benefits of listening in the workplace and discuss the difference between "hearing" and "listening".
  • Discuss the common barriers to good listening.
  • Receive a checklist of active listening skills that you can start utilizing today.

Click the button below to reach out to our team and get started with developing your organization's leadership today!

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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