To become a better listener at work, you must seek to understand. That means stepping outside those experiences that shaped how you see the world, so you can gain an understanding of what drives other people.
Active listening is about making a conscious effort to hear and understand someone else. When we actively listen, we demonstrate concern, limit our interruptions, and ask open-ended questions. We commit all of our attention to the speaker and establish an environment of trust and judgment-free engagement. At work, employees who experience being actively listened to feel a greater sense of belonging. They feel valued, appreciated, and inspired to show up for their team and organization.
When it comes to productivity, active listening has been shown to drastically improve communication and reduce the type of misunderstandings that can slow progress. In contrast, passive or distracted listening—when someone pretends to pay attention to what another person is saying but is actually thinking about or doing something else—can make people feel unimportant or unappreciated. At work, half-listening in this way can critically diminish morale. Active listening is a practice and a daily skill—not a onetime exercise—and as such it requires continual effort to generate long-term benefits
Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand what another person is saying and then repeating what we think we heard back to them to confirm that we understood correctly. In a recent listening workshop, one gentleman shared that some years ago, he became frustrated by a colleague who in a meeting kept saying, “What I’m hearing you say is—” what felt like every 10 seconds. “I felt less heard by her doing that. She kept parroting back to me exactly what I was saying!”
I could sense his frustration and agreed with his assessment that he was on the receiving end of someone who was practicing some overenthusiastic reflective listening. The purpose of these types of techniques is to make listening two-way and empathetic. When we repeat back what we hear to be sure we confirm our understanding, we need to do so not in a cookie-cutter way but with the intention to let the other person know that we have processed what they said and what they didn’t say and are following what they are saying. We don’t need to be overly prescriptive in our approach, and we must remain aware of what others are feeling and need from us.
Phrases to Use in Reflective Listening
“You’re . . .”
“It sounds like . . .”
“It seems like . . .”
“I can see that you’re . . .”
“What I’m hearing you say is . . .”
Empathetic listening takes active listening to the next level because it requires us to make an emotional connection with another person and search for common ground that will enable us to respond in a meaningful way. We don’t listen just with our ears but with our heart. We deliberately slow down and seek to understand with sincere intention. We don’t rush to provide a solution; we simply hold space for the other person to share.
Evaluative listening is when we make a judgment about what another person says. This active listening style requires us to compare what we’re hearing with what we already know or believe to be true and make careful inferences as a result.
Use when you want someone to tell their side of the story. In other words, you want to uncover more.
Use when you feel like you know enough, and are content with a yes or no response.
Whatever blend of listening styles you adopt in your bid to seek to understand, remember it’s all about practice. You can practice by constantly leaning in, paying attention to both nonverbal and verbal cues from others, and putting your skills to the test by following up to see if you understood correctly.
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