Active Listening in the Workplace

Active Listening in the Workplace

Active listening is an important skill in our relationships, both personal and professional. In this article, Zoe Spalding shares some useful tips on how to improve our active listening and points out why it is particularly important in the workplace.

What is Active Listening and why is it important in the workplace?

Active listening requires full concentration on what is being spoken about, as opposed to passively “hearing” the conversation. It is a skill that can be developed with practice and requires the listener to actively engage in listening, reflect on and summarise what has been said, ask appropriately timed questions, display verbal and non-verbal messages reflective of being engaged as well as remaining non-judgemental. 

Active listening is the foundation of successful communication. It can promote a feeling of being valued or heard or create a feeling of trust, strengthening working relationships and making it a valuable workplace skill. Active listening can also help the listener retain more of the conversation via minimising distractions when listening and by paraphrasing and summarising what has been heard.

Below we have listed some signs of active listening and how to improve this skill.

Signs and features of Active Listening

Those engaging in active listening often display a series of non-verbal cues. These can include smiling or nodding the head at appropriate moments, maintaining eye contact, mirroring the speakers’ facial expressions, minimising distractions, fidgeting or clock watching and displaying an open posture – leaning forward, arms uncrossed, facing towards the speaker. These signs can help the speaker feel engaged with and could help them to continue with their conversation.

Key skills to improve Active Listening

Removing Distractions:

Removing distractions enables listeners to pay more attention to the conversation. This could include holding conversations in quiet rooms or turning off phones, televisions, computers and other possible distractions.

Be Attentive, Non-judgemental, and Patient:

Being attentive to the speaker can create a feeling of being valued and respected, as well as encouraging them to continue. Simple ways to display this can include remembering the speakers name or any points raised in previous conversations, making notes if appropriate, summarising what has been said and asking appropriate questions.

Remaining neutral and non-judgmental is important. Wait until the speaker has finished, or has come to appropriate breaks, before inputting views, challenging the conversation, or offering a different perspective. Abruptly changing the topic or interrupting the speaker with their own views could halt the conversation or make the speaker feel undervalued. Even if the listener disagrees with the speaker, they should try to keep an open mind and look to recognise the speakers’ reasons or point of view.


Summarise & Paraphrase:

It is best to be cautious in using positive verbal reinforcements. Whilst some positive words can be encouraging to the speaker, overuse of these could hinder the conversation or lead to a non-objective slant to the conversation – at times it may be better to explain why you agree or disagree with particular aspects of the conversation.

Paraphrasing involves rephasing the speakers’ words - this could be along the lines of “In other words, what you are saying is…” or “you are frustrated/struggling/happy with XXX because…”, whereas summarising requires the listener to either repeat an overview of the conversation, or to reiterate the main points back to the speaker, allowing them to respond and clarify if required.

Both methods can demonstrate that the listener has been paying attention, and that they have understood what was discussed. They also enable the listener to request clarity where needed and to delve further into the reasons for the conversation.

It is OK to request clarification if elements are unclear or need further explanation. Clarification can be obtained via the use of open-ended, probing, or direct questioning.

Asking Appropriate Questions:

Questions are a good method to reinforce to the speaker that they are being listened to. Open ended questions are a useful way of encouraging the speaker to continue dialogue, however, they should not be leading questions, and ideally should not be closed questions requiring only a “yes, no, maybe” answer.

Direct questioning can also provide insightful responses especially when discussing specific topics and probing questions can help to build or delve further into what has been said.

Non-Verbal Feedback:

Non-verbal feedback can be as important and effective in demonstrating active listening, as verbal responses. This can be displayed via maintaining eye contact, mirroring body language, leaning into the listener, avoiding closed off body language (crossed arms/legs) and nodding.

And there is so much more to non-verbal communication that is helpful in the workplace. Keep an eye out for our next article on Non-Verbal Communication in the Workplace, which will be published on September 28th.

For more information on workplace etiquette, application advice, or general professional tips, please get in touch with Zoe Spalding.

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