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The Power of Listening

This article was published on Ikea.

The term “bad listener” might conjure up images of a petulant child with their fingers in their ears shouting “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA” or a friend who checks their phone ten times in as many minutes mid-conversation. But bad listening can take many forms, especially in a workplace situation.

Think about it. When was the last time you shut your laptop, switched your phone to flight mode and sat down with a colleague – with no agenda, no distractions and no time constraints – to just listen?

No one is as deaf as the person who does not listen. But in today’s increasingly noisy and fast-paced workplace, finding the time between back-to-back conference calls to shut up and listen is easier said than done, despite the pay-off being really worth it.

1. Listening to build relationships

The importance of employees bringing their real personalities to workhas been stressed in recent years. It increases productivity, employee satisfaction and boosts working relationships, but not if no one is actually listening. “Relationship listening” means spending meaningful time with someone, getting to know and understand them on a personal level, having empathy and building trust and honesty. The result is a more relaxed working environment, a better support network and greater productivity. Problem solving becomes easier and output higher as teamwork is more enjoyable.

2. Listening to innovate

Brilliant innovations are rarely the result of a solo genius. It takes a team of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to inspire and drive creativity in the workplace. Listening to colleagues means being exposed to different points of view, new ideas, unique perspectives and alternative ways of working and problem solving. Organisations have increasingly prioritised using collaborative and social work spaces, such as WeWork, and practices like hot-desking, in a bid to drive innovation. They understand that when their employees take time to hear all viewpoints and listen to stories, arguably the oldest and greatest form of communication, workplace productivity is boosted.

3. Listening to gain respect

There are few things more demotivating than a manager who swans into the office unannounced at odd hours, demands a catch-up meeting, barks out instructions and promptly leaves. This sort of behaviour sends a clear message that opinions are not valued in the workplace and that it is of little importance for everyone to have their say. Managers who take the time to listen to their employees, to understand the problems and challenges faced, will command greater trust and respect. Employees feel valued and appreciated when they are able to share their concerns and feel comfortable reaching out for help.

4. Listening to help

If you want to help a colleague who is struggling personally or professionally, the very best thing you can do for them is take the time to listen. It’s unhelpful to assume you know how to help without getting a complete picture of what’s going on in someone’s head. Investing some time now in listening will save time in the long run, because a stressed colleague is more likely to make mistakes and have difficulty performing their tasks. Read more about dealing with stress in the workplace here.

5. Listening to be heard

The person who shouts the loudest isn’t necessarily the person who is the most heard, and certainly not the most respected. Don’t underestimate how visible you can be, and how much you can learn, simply by being a good listener. Colleagues will naturally gravitate towards those who respect their right to a voice, not someone who would rather do all the talking themselves. Knowledge is power, and knowledge is best gained by listening (and then processing) the information gained with consideration and care. Those who talk and never listen are destined to be left in the dark with incomplete information and less support from their colleagues.

6. Listening to learn

We all know that it’s possible to attend a meeting or training session without actually absorbing any information. Listening with the intention of learning, or “Critical Listening”, can help to solidify and strengthen opinions, form new ones and increase the understanding of a subject matter. Approaching listening with this attitude needn’t be exclusively reserved for the meeting room. Entering all exchanges with an open mind to learning something new is a positive and productive way to engage with colleagues. When conversations are approached with a preconceived bias or someone is continuously planning their next retaliation it could be termed “Selective Listening”, which is an unproductive and frustrating way to converse.

How to be a better listener

There’s a whole host of tips and tricks that can help you become a better active listener, including:

- Ask open questions and follow-up questions.

- Give people your undivided attention by removing all potential distractions.

- Set aside “listening time”.

- Maintain eye contact.

- Don’t plan your responses or enter discussions with a preconceived bias. Take some time to think before you reply.

- Don’t change the subject in the middle of a conversation.

- Be patient; allow people to finish what they are saying.

- Be prepared to listen to things you don’t want to hear.

- Consider what your body language says about your engagement.

Ultimately there’s no easy way to teach someone to be a good listener if the intention isn’t there, as this clip from The Officebeautifully demonstrates. As with so many things in life, if you’re faking it, the other person can probably tell.

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