Genuine listening skills in the workplace can be hard to come by, but they are vitally important in creating an enlightened culture where people truly hear each other.
In our fast-paced, modern world with all its distractions, focusing on one another is not easy. Often, our conversations with others involve interruption and impatient verbal cues versus genuine listening. Many people, particularly busy people, feign listening until the conversation can be turned around to them. Or rather than listen, they formulate in their mind what they want to say rather than hearing what is being said.
UC Santa Barbara Professor Tania Israel says that some people find that the most difficult part of listening is not talking and that there’s deep humility in listening because the focus is more on understanding the other person than saying everything that comes to mind.
Stephen Covey famously said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Listening with the intent to reply is only marginally better than interrupting the speaker or walking away mid-conversation. When you start paying attention to how you are as a listener, as well as noticing the cues of those listening to you, you may find that most people aren’t great listeners. This is a missed opportunity for leaders and managers seeking to build greater collaboration, support and trust with their teams.
In her essay, On the Fine Art of Listening, author Brenda Ueland says “When we’re listened to by others, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas begin to grow within us and come to life.” This idea underscores what it means to be an enlightened listener. Imagine what your team could accomplish if you could enable each person to grow, unfold and expand, just by making space for them to be heard.
Enlightened listening can also be an area of competitive advantage, because being a good listener and encouraging strong listening skills in the workplace can make you stand out at all levels of your organization. A bonus is that it makes people want to spend more time with you.
It’s worth noting that mindful, enlightened listening doesn’t have to be synonymous with agreeing. Actively listening to understand another person’s point of view and working to see things from their perspective doesn’t mean you have to give up your own perspective. It just means you’re giving them the space to take in the full story before jumping in to offer your viewpoint.
Here are some recommendations to build your listening skills in the workplace:
Do not look at your phone.
Create space for the other person to speak by being quiet.
Give people your full attention with eye contact and body language that says, “I’m listening.”
Acknowledge what the other person is saying by nodding or saying, “I hear you.” This doesn’t mean you’re agreeing, just that you’ve heard them.
Reflect what you’re hearing to ensure you understand what they’re saying.
Do not look at your phone.
Do not interrupt or finish people’s sentences.
Ask relevant questions to understand what they’re saying and demonstrate your interest.
Listen to the emotions and intentions behind the words. What additional insight do they offer?
Remember details so that you can bring them into future conversations.
Oh, and did we mention to not look at your phone?
Within the 7 Elements of an Enlightened Workplace, care, respect and value stand out when it comes to enlightened listening. Listening without interrupting, or turning the conversation back to yourself, is a concrete way to show someone that you respect and value them. Care is evidenced by giving a person your time to listen to them, asking questions to deeply understand what they are saying and remembering the details of the conversation in the future.
How cool is it that the letters of the word “listen”, when rearranged, become “silent.”
Learn about The 7 Elements of an Enlightened Workplace
- Assess how you’re doing today
- Enroll in The Enlightened Workplace Project online course
- Download The 7 Elements of an Enlightened Workplace Action Checklist
- Join The Enlightened Workplace Project LinkedIn group
Kristin Brownstone is Vice President, Strategist at ROI, co-creator of The Enlightened Workplace Project, and a professional public speaking and personal transformation coach.