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Fresh Perspectives

How Active Listening can boost performance and improve relationships

How Active Listening can boost performance and improve relationships

We often hear but fail to listen.

It sounds like an oxymoron, but it happens to all of us, whether we are the ones listening or the ones being listened to. By being only partially focused on what we are hearing, we are missing out on valuable opportunities to learn useful information and build stronger relationships.

Active Listening is a vital skill both in workplaces and in personal life. It involves a conscious effort to understand the message being delivered to us, without thinking about what we are going to say next. This can feel counter-intuitive, as our initial instinct in professional discussions is often to argue our point. However, by actively listening, we improve our chances of learning or finding a compromise that will suit all parties.

The benefits of Active Listening

Active listening can help you become a better leader, better friend, and better family member.

  • It builds trust and strengthens relationships.
  • It encourages people around you to be open and share their concerns.
  • It allows you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and find a resolution to a conflict.
  • It helps you absorb information in its entirety, without missing important details.
  • It enables you to better evaluate the situation, identify the problem, and start developing a solution.

Finally, it provides you with the confidence of understanding what drives your team, what their challenges are, and what they need from you as a leader. In other words, it is a key skill of effective leadership.

Practicing Active Listening

There are five stages to the active listening process. By working on them one at a time, you can become a better listener and a better communicator overall.

The receiving stage

Your first task is to receive the message by ignoring all other distractions - background noise, screens and movement around you, your own interpretations of what is being said, and so on. Focus on what is being said - and nothing else.

The understanding stage

Try to understand what was being said. If you need more information or if anything is unclear, ask the speaker to clarify. You could also repeat and paraphrase what they said, to confirm that you heard them correctly.

The evaluating stage

In this stage, you evaluate the message you have received. Is it valid? Is it loaded with the speaker’s subjective opinion, or is it based on facts? Review and summarize the message to gain clarity.

The responding stage

Let the speaker know that you heard and understood their message through verbal and non-verbal cues. In a one-on-one conversation, this might mean a smile, a nod, or asking a question.

The remembering stage

If you cannot repeat the message you just heard, it usually means that you weren’t listening carefully. Taking notes can help - but make sure that writing is not distracting you from being present in the moment.

If you're ready to start practicing Active Listening, this page from the NY Times offers three helpful resources you can use to get started.

How to incorporate Active Listening into your company culture

Depending on the size of your team, there are many ways you can introduce and cultivate a culture of Active Listening.

You could start by regularly surveying your team to discover how everyone is feeling. Asking your employees for feedback after a meeting and keeping an open-door policy can also help. When running meetings, make sure that everyone has a chance to speak rather than giving the stage to the loudest person in the room.

Above all else, remember that it is always best to lead by example - by actively listening and encouraging your team to do the same, you will set a benchmark that will guide your team into a more supportive and understanding unit.

Training in Active Listening can benefit your life, and a company's entire culture - If you'd like to learn more about Active Listening can help you, get in touch - I will be happy to help.

Jessica Godshall is a solutions-oriented professional with a proven track record of leadership success in launching a startup business, serving on leadership committees, promoting engagement, and advancing philanthropic campaigns.

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