The switch to remote work had its pain points, though one that hit hard was active listening. Viewing your team through a screen, you don’t get the non-verbal cues you’d normally pick up from an in-person conversation, thereby impacting your ability to actively listen. With all these struggles, it has never been more important, and more difficult, for leaders to be great listeners.
Restricted to only words and tonality, having meetings or conversations online provided even more reason for leaders to engage in active listening. Today, as we transition to a hybrid work environment where conversations are happening both online and in-person, it is crucial that we upskill in listening.
What is active listening:
There’s still yet to be a definition of exactly what active listening is. However, it is a skill that enables us to understand and learn, whilst also allowing others to contribute and feel involved, included, and cared for.
Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable — and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities. – Peter Nulty
Becoming skilled at active listening is a lifetime endeavour and holds great significance for leaders. It establishes trust, motivates your team, fosters a psychologically safe work environment, and drives innovation. You can read about the many benefits of active listening here: How to master workplace communication in three easy steps
To help you get started on your journey, here’s three helpful tips:
1. Repeat people’s words
This simple practice is a great start to showing that you are actually paying attention to the speaker. It also helps keep you on track during the conversation!
2. Use body language
Encompassing over 50% of what constitutes active listening, non-verbal cues play a significant part in showing that you are listening. Copying the speaker’s body language, as well as eye contact and nodding are great signals of active listening. During a phone call, body language still counts – avoid fidgeting or doing things that distract you from the conversation and try smiling (you can hear a smile!).
3. Don’t rehearse your response
Once the other person has finished talking, take a pause and compose your thoughts. Avoid interrupting your conversation partner whilst they are speaking. By doing this, you are wanting to drive your own agenda towards a pre-determined outcome.
Listening has always been, and will always be hard, especially as more of our communication is done through a screen. Now, its importance and difficulty has never been higher. As leaders, take the time to really listen, understand and resist the temptation to respond with generic answers. At Corporate Edge, we have developed a three-step framework that helps frame–up your communication to get the best out of the individual and the conversation. Using this framework will allow you to have consistently great communication that you can apply across all situations, conversations and people. It will allow you to show vulnerability, build trust and make others feel supported.
We’re all learning, and as a leader we must be on a continuous journey of improvement, not only for the benefit of your team and organisation, but for you as well.
If you would like to grow in this area, see our toolkit on Effective 1:1s. This will expand on the above tips on active listening and provide a framework to help you transform the way you interact with your team.