Successful workplaces are built around effective communication - i.e., co-workers sharing their ideas, feelings, and beliefs in ways that foster trust and cooperation. Before professionals can express themselves in their workplace, though, they need to learn how to actively listen and engage with the folks they talk to.
If you’re interested in improving your active listening skills in ways that will positively impact your career, you should start by studying and practicing the four communication approaches this article describes:
Attentive body language
Engaging tones of voice
Why good listening skills positively impact careers
If one person is talking up a storm while everyone else stays silent, that’s a half-baked lecture. If no one is talking to each other, that’s just awkward silence. If a group of people are ignoring or talking over each other, their “talk” is nothing more than a battle of egos. For a conversation to be a true conversation, each participant must get a chance to talk and should make a genuine effort to listen.
The short-term consequence of not listening during a conversation is that you get nothing out of it: no knowledge, no insights, no deepened understanding of the people you’re talking to. In the long term, your conversation partners may also get frustrated and less interested in talking earnestly with you.
On the flip side, mastering the listening skills in this article will let you build bonds of mutual respect with workplace colleagues and the clients your business serves. By showing your ability and desire to listen, these colleagues and clients will also be more inclined to take your advice, follow your lead during challenging projects, and sing your praises to managers.
According to a recent Psychology Today article, 96 percent of surveyed individuals declared that they were good listeners, a belief at odds with a study that showed the average listener only retains half of what they are told during recent conversations.
How do you know when to listen or respond?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in a conversation is to start talking and never stop. Tempting as it may be to wax eloquent about your life and ideas, you should always give your conversation partners the chance to express their own thoughts.
With all the above in mind, the first step of being a good listener is, quite simply, listening. If the person you’re talking to starts to talk about something, quiet down and wait until they’ve finished talking before responding. If a participant in your conversation has been silent for a while, also try to encourage them to talk with questions such as
“How do you feel about that?”
“What do you think?”
“How does that sound?”
“What would you suggest?”
“Did you have any questions?”
Active empathy (where you pay close attention to what other people feel and want) is a key skill for knowing when you can talk and when you should let others speak. If a conversation partner has a strained, frustrated look on their face, for instance, you should take a moment to ask how they’re feeling or if they’re worried about something.
3 Helpful listening skills
1. Engaged body language
If you’re listening to someone talk (in a workplace, classroom, family gathering, etc.) it’s important to show your conversation partner that you’re actually listening to them. Be extra mindful of your body language whenever you’re in the middle of a conversation, and be sure to communicate your interest using cues such as these:
- Make eye contact
- Have an upright body posture
- Periodically nod
- Echo a speaker’s gestures
- Avert eyes or look away
- Slump or hunch over
- Automatically nod at random
- Gesture in ways that interrupt or distract the speaker
For some people, these kinds of non-verbal communication skills come naturally, while other personality types may be more introverted. Even the most fluttery of social butterflies, however, should pay attention to their physical demeanors if they want to earn the trust of strangers and respect their co-workers.
2. Positive-sounding tones
When it’s time to respond to your conversation partner, you shouldn’t talk in a flat monotone or be chipper and cheerful to the point of sounding fake (especially if you’re trying to leave a good lasting impression). Instead, pitch your tone of voice so it matches the general tone of the conversation you’re in.
Sometimes, you’ll be in a conversation where one of the speakers is a bad listener or outright frustrating to talk to. In these situations, it’s important to not vocally express emotions such as boredom or contempt so you don’t escalate the conversation into something adversarial.
At the same time, don’t try to express false feelings of happiness and cheer. Instead, adopt a polite yet firm tone whenever you need to disagree with a speaker, offer constructive criticism, or set boundaries.
3. Asking constructive questions
Besides asking questions to convey your interest (such as the stereotypically generic “That is so interesting! Could you tell me more?”) you should also ask questions to make sure you actually understand what the conversation is about. This active listening skill is extra important when you’re talking with a co-worker about technical matters or working out a plan of action for your business.
The simplest kinds of “double-check” or “get-to-know-you” questions try to rephrase and echo what the speakers recently said. For instance, if a conversation partner proposes adding solar panels to the roof of the office building, you can check your understanding by asking “So you’re thinking our business would benefit from renewable energy, then?”
Even if you know a lot about a conversation’s topic, thoughtful questions about specific details are a great way to show your interest and give speakers a chance to elaborate on their ideas. Returning to the “solar panels on the office roof” example, you can engage with the person who made the proposal by asking questions such as:
“What kinds of solar panels should we install?”
“Would photovoltaic or solar thermal panels be a better choice?”
“How much would the initial installation cost, you think?”
Good listening skills can impact your career in many positive ways: improving your knowledge, building respect between you and your colleagues, etc.
To be a good listener, pay attention to the feelings of conversation partners, keep your remarks concise, and encourage others to speak up.
To show people you’re listening, maintain eye contact and convey interest through outgoing body language and polite tones of voice.
To show conversation partners you’re interested, ask questions that give speakers a chance to explain their thoughts in more detail.