If you manage people, there is a good chance employees come to you with a variety of problems. In the technical sense, you become the receiver of their message.
The question is: can you really hear them?
Given the frantic pace of most workdays, it’s easy to only partially tune into what the person is saying. But if you want to increase employee morale and help your organization reach its goals, it may be helpful to engage in the art of active listening.
Active listening is more than just hearing the person who is speaking. Instead, this approach to communication requires using both the ears and mind.
Active listening helps managers get the facts while tuning into the employee’s emotions.
When you engage in this form of communication, you send the message that you truly care about your employees and their feelings. As a leader, it’s critical that you let workers know their opinions matter and that what they say is important.
Not everyone is skilled in this area. But with a little practice, improvements can be made. Bear in mind that active listening is a skill that requires mindful focus.
What follows are ten hacks for becoming a better active listener at work and increase employee morale (Ludden & Capozzoli, 2000).
1. Stop talking
The first step is to stop talking. You can’t listen if your mouth is moving. Avoid thinking about what you want to say while the employee is speaking.
Instead, focus on the worker’s words.
2. Create a sense of ease
Help the employee feel at ease by creating rapport. This can be accomplished by engaging in small-talk before the important part of the conversation takes place.
Another way to promote calmness is to avoid placing objects between you and the employee. In other words, avoid sitting behind a desk. Instead, take up a seat next to the person.
3. Make eye contact
When you make eye contact with an employee, you demonstrate to the person you are interested in what he or she is saying.
This approach also shows that you are tuning into them and not multi-tasking. This leads us to our next point.
4. Make time
When possible, try to reduce outside distractions. For example, if an employee stops you in the hallway, try to move the conversation to an open conference room or office.
While they are speaking, don’t doodle, tap your fingers or glance at your smartphone. The point here is to fully focus on the person who has come to you.
If you are pressed for time, it’s OK to ask the employee if a meeting can be set up so that the conversation can happen in a meaningful way.
If the situation is urgent and you are still pressed for time, set the expectation of how long you can chat.
Example: I’ve got a conference call in ten minutes. We can speak now for five minutes and schedule something later. Would that be OK?
5. Empathize with the employee
Try to step into the worker’s shoes and see things from their point of view. Be mindful of personal opinions that can act as barriers to seeing the other person’s perspective.
6. Practice patience
This one is hard, particularly when you are super busy, but avoid cutting the person off when they are speaking. Additionally, avoid completing their sentences.
If the conversation seems like it will take up more time than you are able to give, return to point #4.
7. Check your temper
If during the conversation the employee says something that upsets you or that you disagree with, don’t respond in an angry manner.
Example: The employee accuses you of being arrogant. Instead of replying angrily, it may be best to ask the person: I wonder if calling me names is the most effective way to get me to hear what you are saying?
8. Avoid criticizing
The minute you begin to criticize someone, you put them on the defensive. The end result is two ticked-off people trying to communicate, and that’s never a good thing.
9. Ask questions
When there is a pause in the conversation, ask a question. If you need clarity on a specific aspect of what the person is saying, use a reflection.
Example: It sounds like you are struggling with the new computer system but I’m needing help understanding what part of the application is giving you the most trouble?
10. Stop talking
This was listed as the first point and it also is the last one. Remember, you can’t be an active listener if you are speaking.
Ludden, L., & Capozzoli, T. (2000). Supervisor Savvy: Indianapolis, IN: JIST Works.
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