When we’re very young, one of the first things we learn is how to communicate. Using our voices, first to cry and later to speak, is how we get our most basic needs met by our parents and caregivers.
When they listen to us as children, we feel loved, understood, and our needs are validated. If our communication is neglected or ignored, we feel like our needs don’t matter. This is learned so early in life that as adults, this basic need to be heard and understood runs deep, even though we have the skills and independence to take care of most of our everyday needs.
This is why listening is so powerful in building trust. If you’ve ever been frustrated by someone who wasn’t listening to you, you can relate. In that situation, it can feel like the other person doesn’t care about you or your needs and is only concerned about their own. It doesn’t feel good.
In a work environment, it’s easy to become so wrapped up in the day-to-day challenges and tasks, that we forget that listening is an important skill.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” – Viktor Frankl
Our responses, or lack thereof, can make or break our personal and professional relationships. People need to feel heard and supported. When they don’t, they can feel frustrated and disengaged.
Why Should I Make Time to Listen?
Employee retention is key to any successful business, but if your people don’t feel valued, they likely won’t stay. The Great Resignation has been a shock to many employers, but for employees, it seems like the pandemic just shed light on issues that had been long overlooked.
According to Pew Research, 57% of people who quit their jobs in 2021 cited feeling disrespected at work as a key reason.
Feeling disrespected often stems from not being heard or made to feel valuable. Opportunities to share ideas are few and when questions are asked they are made to feel stupid. No one likes to feel this way.
Taking time to really listen and practicing more empathy helps to combat these potential negative feelings and makes the workplace an environment where people truly want to be.
Collectively, the last two years have taken their toll on all of us. Every person has been affected in some way, though some have definitely been affected more than others.
We need to define a new normal in the workplace and stop expecting things to just go back to the way they were. We are not the same, so why would our feelings about work be?
Obviously, there may be operational constraints, but as leaders, your most valuable resources are your time and your people. Although listening can feel like a waste of time, it is truly an investment.
Ask questions. Really listen. Get to know your employees as people and not just the role they fill. Remember, they bring their personal challenges, hopes, fears, and joys to work every day, whether they share them or not.
Listening Builds Trust
When someone feels valued, they are more open-minded, willing, and able to collaborate. When people trust each other, they can speak openly and honestly and can hear other suggestions and perspectives.
People will ask more questions, brainstorm, and collaborate to define a solution. If everyone is on the same page, there is less wasted time later.
And if employees can tell you when things aren’t going well, before they quit, leaders have the opportunity to make changes and won’t be caught off guard if an employee decides to move on.
Trust fosters curiosity, enabling people to learn from one another, be more adaptable, and be resilient. They are less likely to need to be right or “win” the debate.
Finally, a sense of belonging leads to stronger motivation and persistence when challenges arise. Team members feel they are working towards something bigger and having a more significant impact.
How to Become a Better Listener
So what are some techniques for becoming a better listener? Start with curiosity. Ever heard the phrase, “be interested, not interesting”? Most people love to talk about themselves, so let them!
Give the person your full attention. Ask open-ended questions in a non-judgmental way that doesn’t evoke a yes or no answer. Think about what you could learn from this person or conversation.
Examples: "What’s top of mind for you?" "What does success look like?" "What’s an ideal outcome?"
Expand a shorter answer by saying “Tell me more about that”.
These are questions that create opportunity and space for someone to share their opinion and perspective. As you listen, resist the urge to jump in, to finish someone’s sentence, or skip ahead to the next point. Acknowledge the speaker with a facial expression or movement, such as a head nod.
Using the Looping technique enables both people to achieve a common understanding. Once the speaker finishes, the listener loops back to what they thought they heard. The speaker then clarifies anything that was misunderstood or left out. This process continues as many times as needed to gain clarity.
Dipping allows you to check in with yourself as the listener to notice if you’re getting distracted by your own feelings or internal chatter. If you do get distracted, simply acknowledge it to yourself and rejoin the conversation.
Developing active listening skills takes some practice, but as we’ve outlined above, the benefits are many and can really improve your relationships both on and off the job.
If you’d like to learn how you can improve your listening skills and build more trust within your team, download our free guide.
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