Effective communication is a two-way street that involves not only expressing oneself clearly but also actively listening to others. While being a great speaker is a great skill to have as a working professional, the ability to listen attentively is equally as important in the workplace. This allows us to pick up on nuances, emotions, and intentions that may not be explicitly stated.

With a culture where every voice is heard and valued, leaders not only empower their teams but also cultivate an environment ripe for productivity and growth. From active listening techniques to the role of empathy and feedback mechanisms, we aim to guide leaders toward embodying a balanced approach—one where they not only speak but also listen with genuine intention, empathy, and purpose.

The Art of Listening: Beyond Words, Beneath the Surface

Many people mistakenly equate listening with hearing, but they are distinct concepts. Listening is more than just hearing someone’s words—it involves actively engaging with and understanding their message. Research studies indicate that we communicate for about 80 percent of our waking hours, with 45 percent of that time spent listening. However, only 25 percent of this listening is considered effective, highlighting a significant gap in our ability to listen well.1

Interestingly, “silent” and “listen” are anagrams, though whether this is merely a coincidence is up for debate. Nonetheless, it shows an important point: silence plays a key role in mastering the art of listening. When we resist the urge to interrupt and allow others the space to express themselves, we can appreciate their perspectives and engage meaningfully in conversation.

Yet, despite the emphasis on silence, it’s important to recognize that effective listening includes nonverbal and verbal cues. It’s essential to show the speaker that you understand their message and respond appropriately. Overall, mastering the art of listening involves active engagement and attentive focus. What’s more, a great listener possesses the interpersonal skills to succeed both in professional environments and in personal relationships.

Read more: What Skills Are Needed to Be a Good Office Manager?

The Traits of a Good Listener

So, what exactly makes someone a good listener? Below, we’ve outlined the most important characteristics that contribute to effective listening:

Attentiveness

Engaging in active listening means staying attentive and interested throughout the conversation. It’s natural to sometimes become lost in your own thoughts or momentarily lose focus, but maintaining attention on the person speaking and their message is necessary for effective listening.

Attentiveness and genuine interest go hand in hand. Your ability to concentrate on someone’s words stems from your sincere curiosity about what they have to say. Yet, if their conversation doesn’t engage you, it’s easy to lose focus. That’s why intentionally finding interest in their dialogue is important.

Empathy

An indicator of strong emotional intelligence is the capacity for empathy, or the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. This skill is especially important for building lasting relationships with colleagues and making a positive impact in the workplace.

Many employees seek out companies that value empathy. In fact, 83 percent of Gen Z employees would consider leaving their current jobs to work for a more empathetic organization.2 Having a clear understanding of your employees’ perspectives allows you to resolve problems effectively. Similarly, the ability to consider multiple points of view enhances the value of one’s own opinions.

Having an Open Mind

Open-mindedness involves being receptive to information and opinions that may differ from your own. Seizing opportunities to learn from others is highly advantageous, both for personal growth and professional development.

Also, avoiding judgment and bias helps to build trust among colleagues, creating a work environment that is more proactive, productive, and engaging, benefiting everyone involved.

Read more: 3 Reasons Why You Should Promote Company Culture

Unlocking the Art of Listening

Here are some practical strategies to help you better understand your employees through the art of listening.

Create a space to talk

Find a specific time and place to have a conversation with your employees. If your office is consistently bustling with activity, with phones ringing and interruptions from other staff, you may not fully understand the message, its context, and its impact on business operations. Seek out a quiet environment, hold all calls, and concentrate on what the employee is expressing. Minimizing distractions will enhance your ability to genuinely listen to the speaker’s words.

Stay focused

You might have a busy schedule with numerous tasks planned for the day, and it’s easy to get caught up thinking about the next item on your agenda. However, it’s important to remain focused on what the employee is saying. Remember, it is your responsibility to assess the information the employee shared after the conversation, which requires complete concentration.

Avoid cutting in

Let your employees finish their point before you speak. This shows that you’re paying attention, and it helps you stay focused on what they’re saying without getting ahead of yourself in planning your response.

Maintain eye contact

When interacting with employees, making direct eye contact communicates that you are fully engaged and attentive to their communication. Avoiding eye contact, even while still listening, can give the impression that you are distracted or uninterested in what they are saying.

Show the right facial expressions

Nodding, tilting your head, and smiling are nonverbal cues that employees interpret as signs of engagement and interest. These expressions communicate that you are actively listening to and understanding their message. When employees see these positive facial expressions, they feel heard and encouraged to continue sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Remain unbiased

We all have biases, and yours might influence how you interpret the employee’s message. For instance, if a manager believes that employees should always follow orders without question, they might overlook opportunities for improvement. However, an employee who is perceived as overly critical may still have constructive ideas for streamlining procedures. Great suggestions can originate from anyone, so it’s important to set aside personal biases when listening.

Put it in writing

Taking notes shows that you are actively listening. Your notes can be rearranged to achieve the most favorable outcomes from the discussion. It’s difficult to remember everything if you don’t write it down, so keep a pad and pen handy to jot down the important points of the employee’s presentation.

Clarify and summarize the main points

Even skilled communicators may tend to jump from one point to another when speaking spontaneously. As a leader, your responsibility is to identify the key points made by your employees and organize them into a coherent sequence. Pay attention to cues that signal important information, such as phrases like “The main point I want to highlight is…” or “In essence, what I’m saying is…” Paraphrase the employee’s statements using your own language. Often, both the speaker and the listener have different objectives, and restating the employee’s main points helps ensure that you have a clear understanding of the message.

Master the Art of Listening to Your Employees with Spectra360

At Spectra360, we go beyond just filling positions—we listen to your needs. We understand that effective staffing solutions require a deep understanding of your unique requirements and challenges. That’s why we take the time to listen attentively to your concerns, goals, and preferences.

Contact us today and learn how Spectra360’s staffing expertise can help you cultivate a workplace environment where active listening to employees is not just encouraged but ingrained in your company’s culture.

References:

1. Harkin, David J. “The Lost Art of Listening.” 7 Nov. 2019, www.linkedin.com/pulse/lost-art-listening-david-harkin.

2‌. Wexler, Melanie Mitchell. “Empathy Matters: Practice Compassionate Empathy at Work.” 29 Sept. 2022, www.linkedin.com/pulse/empathy-matters-practice-compassionate-work-melanie-mitchell-wexler.

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