Managing people

Listen up! This is a game changer

There's a saying that since we have two ears and one mouth, there should be double the amount of listening – however, we know this isn't often the case. Here's why listening is so important.

30 August 2023

Effective communication forms the backbone of any successful organisation. It involves articulating one's thoughts clearly and also engaging actively with the ideas and perspectives of others. While speaking is essential for transmitting information, research shows that listening – the other half of the communication equation, often remains neglected. There's a saying that since we have two ears and one mouth, there should be double the amount of listening – however, we know this isn't often the case.

This article dives into why experts emphasise listening as a cornerstone of effective workplace communication and how cultivating this skill can lead to improved collaboration, enhanced leadership, and higher productivity.

Listening fosters trust and human connection

In a workplace, fostering trust and building connections is paramount. Listening is a potent tool for achieving these goals. Active listening demonstrates respect for colleagues, superiors, and subordinates, creating an environment where individuals feel valued and understood. 

According to Dr Julian Treasure, a sound and communication expert, listening deeply and attentively allows individuals to uncover their peers' hidden needs, concerns, and aspirations, ultimately strengthening relationships and collaboration. It's those subtle cues that we pick up that would be otherwise missed. 

Enhancing leadership through listening

Leadership is often associated with decisiveness, direction, and guidance. However, effective leadership also requires great listening skills. The opposite of that would be micromanaging. 

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that leaders who were skilled listeners were more likely to be perceived as transformational leaders, inspiring their teams to achieve exceptional outcomes. Listening helps leaders gain insights into employee needs, align organisational goals, and adapt strategies according to feedback, fostering an inclusive and empowering work environment.

Mitigating conflict and misunderstandings

Misunderstandings and conflicts can disrupt the harmony of any workplace. Grievances are not uncommon in the workplace.

Psychologists argue that these issues frequently arise due to poor listening practices. According to Dr Mary Lynn Pulley, a psychologist specialising in communication and workplace dynamics, active listening promotes clarity and reduces misinterpretations. When individuals engage in focused listening, they are more likely to accurately comprehend information, leading to fewer errors and less friction in day-to-day interactions.

The role of empathy in effective listening

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person and is closely intertwined with effective listening. 

Dr Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, emphasises that empathy involves not just hearing words but also perceiving emotions and grasping the context behind them. 

Empathetic listening can create a compassionate workplace culture where employees feel supported and validated. This, in turn, leads to increased job satisfaction, reduced burnout, and heightened loyalty among team members.

Listening as a catalyst for learning and innovation

Continuous learning, improvement, and innovation are vital for organisations to stay competitive in today's rapidly evolving landscape. 

By actively listening to colleagues and stakeholders, individuals can access diverse perspectives and ideas, fostering creativity and encouraging the development of solutions. A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior highlighted that companies promoting a culture of active listening exhibited higher levels of innovation and adaptability.

Overcoming technological distractions

With hybrid and remote working the norm and on the rise, we are in an era dominated by constant digital communication. But how does this impact listening? 

Dr Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and MIT professor, warns that the constant use of smartphones and associated distractions of notifications can hinder genuine human connection and attentive listening. 

It's important to consciously disconnect from devices, where possible, during conversations to engage with people and comprehend their messages fully.

Five practical strategies and 'easy wins' to cultivate listening skills

There are several strategies to enhance listening skills in the workplace:

  1. Mindful presence: Being fully 'present' during conversations, free from distractions, and showing genuine interest in the speaker's words.
  2. Active engagement: Asking clarifying questions, nodding, and providing verbal affirmations to demonstrate engagement and encourage the speaker.
  3. Empathetic response: Responding with empathy and understanding, acknowledging the speaker's emotions and concerns.
  4. Nonverbal cues: Pay attention to nonverbal cues such as body language and tone of voice to better comprehend the underlying message.
  5. Reflective summaries: Paraphrasing or summarising the speaker's points to ensure accurate understanding and showcasing that their thoughts are valued.

Over to you

In the dynamic world of the modern workplace, effective communication goes beyond just transmitting information – it involves actively listening to the thoughts, emotions, and ideas of others. Sometimes, it truly pays to do less of the talking and more of the listening. Listening is an indispensable skill that fosters trust, enhances leadership, mitigates conflicts, and promotes innovation. 

By understanding the underlying power of listening and implementing practical strategies to cultivate this skill, we can unlock many benefits, leading to increased workplace success and employee engagement

Catherine Ngo

Content writer, presenter and podcaster

Catherine is passionate about unravelling the latest news and insights to help HR managers, business owners, and employers.

Premium workplace Content

Your go-to solution for all things employment-related. Enjoy unlimited access to our extensive library of business articles, tools and resources, plus start answering your HR and workplace questions with our Ask an Expert service.

Join for free

Join My Business for free and receive more useful articles and guides for your business.

Please enter the thanks you text here.

I acknowledge I have read and understood NSWBC Privacy Policy and I consent to the processing of my personal data for marketing and profiling purposes.