As we adjust to life with lowered restrictions and begin to transition back to life with more opportunities for interaction, there’s no better time to reflect on one often overlooked element of the art of conversation … listening! Let’s explore the value of compassionate, active listening, how to become a better listener, and how it can take the quality of our workplace interactions to a whole new level!
These days, with anxiety, ruminating, and racing thoughts at an all-time high, many of us are caught up in our own thoughts, and find it hard to focus and concentrate on what is going on around us. This sets us up for low-quality interactions with our partners, friends, family members, work colleagues, and anyone we encounter in our daily lives. Is there anything more frustrating than being ignored, dismissed, misunderstood, or overlooked?
The impact of low-level listening in the workplace
For business leaders, managers, and team leaders, poor listening skills are particularly troublesome. They can seriously impact teamwork, team cohesion, and productivity. Especially as we transition back to in-person workplaces in the aftermath of the pandemic, with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) at all-time high levels, quality, active listening could go a long way to rebuilding a dynamic of engagement, connectedness, and cooperation.
More than ever, as leaders we need to set an exemplary active listening example in the workplace. Leaders need to give their full attention to the person with whom they are engaged in conversation. They need to pay full attention, not only to what is being said but the tone of voice, mood, and other non-verbal cues of the speaker. Further, it is important not to appear distracted, or disinterested, to focus on what is being said, rather than composing a response, and to respond compassionately and authentically in every situation.
Disinterested and disengaged
We’ve all experienced low-quality interactions from time to time when a person we are speaking to seems disinterested and disengaged with us and what we’re saying. And most of us have likely, at times, been guilty of the same low level of engagement when someone is talking to us. Even when verbal exchanges are somewhat in alignment and on point, an almost endless list of non-verbal cues — from glancing at a cell phone or glancing at a watch, lack of eye contact, fidgeting, restless shifting posture to name a few — can reveal that the person we are speaking to is a million miles away, thinking of the next thing they are going to say or do, or is simply tuned out and disinterested in us and what we have to say.
This low-quality listening results in a low-level experience all ‘round, and leaves everyone feeling dissatisfied, disconnected, misunderstood, or unheard.
Quality exchange of energy
On the other hand, we’ve all experienced that feeling of connection that happens with speaking with someone who is really listening with their full attention and responding in a way that makes us feel heard, understood, and respected. A good listener can make us feel validated as if we matter. And a good listener somehow also engages us in a way that makes us feel better connected, and more understanding of their ideas, feelings, and experiences. This is why active, compassionate listening skills, and are among the most powerful communication tools available to us.
But how can we become more compassionate and effective listeners? How can we begin to listen up?
Five steps to becoming a better listener!
- Decide to listen fully. Give the person who is speaking with you your full attention. Pay full attention to what they are saying, their intonation, energy level, mood, and intention.
- Focus your full attention on the person with whom you are engaged in conversation. As long as you are in the midst of an exchange, stay present. Quiet your mind and tune in to the other person.
- Be aware of potential non-verbal signals you may be giving off that indicate that you are bored, distracted, or disinterested. Think of how you feel when you pick up on these non-verbal signals of disengagement
- Refrain from the temptation to shift focus from the other person to you and your thoughts about the next thing you’re going to say.
- Respond in a way that models compassion to the other person.
The benefits of becoming more engaged and in tune
When co-workers are fully engaged and in tune with one another, everyone benefits from the quality exchange of energy. Everyone feels respected and understood. Fully engaged, team members notice more, pick up on nuances or mood, level of intensity, intentions, and ideas. They observe, absorb, act and react in the moment. In mutually satisfying workplace exchanges, everyone feels more satisfied, engaged, heard, and connected.
As a business leader armed with an awareness of what it takes to be an active, compassionate listener, the next conversation you have with a co-worker could be a game-changer. The golden rule of listening up is listening to everyone we encounter in the workplace just as we would want them to listen to us.
When it comes to listening up, being the change we want to see — and hear — sets off a ripple effect. Fully connecting and engaging in our exchanges shows our co-workers that we respect and value them, a valuable message at a time when people are transitioning back to the workplace. When leaders model quality listening, team leaders and members will follow suit. There’s no time like the present to listen up.
Written by Dr. Monica Vermani, C. Psych., Clinical Psychologist.
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