Humans have evolved as social beings, with an innate instinct to connect and belong with other human beings for survival. Roughly 70-80% of our day is spent engaged in some form of communication, and at least 50% is spent listening. But how often do we actively listen?
Most people would argue that they have above-average listening skills. However, research shows that the regular person only listens with approximately 25% efficiency. Many people have the false belief that listening is about being quiet and giving your full attention to someone, but it is much more than that. Listening requires an awareness of body language, facial expressions, and behavioural gestures as well as verbal communication.
Listening is a life skill that we learn from a very young age and forms the building blocks of language and communication. To develop our listening skills we must engage in ‘active listening’ a technique developed through our self-awareness, mindfulness, attention, and emotional intelligence - the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions and how to handle interpersonal relationships empathetically and personally.
“To actively listen is not just to hear but to understand, interpret and evaluate what they hear.”
– Collins Dictionary
The positive effects of listening
Positive psychology research has found that active listening is a key component of social interaction and communication and has been shown to improve personal wellbeing and life satisfaction. Further research shows that listening helps build strong professional and personal relationships, boosts our emotional intelligence, improves problem-solving, and allows us to understand different perspectives and insights.
Why should we listen at work?
In the workplace, in particular, effective listening skills are crucial for building trust and transparency with colleagues and employees, breeding loyalty and commitment and thus improving group productivity. Employees require feedback and support at work from their leaders to ensure continued personal and professional development and effective performance, which are dependent on effective communication. Thus, effective active listening is a crucial component of successful leadership. In fact, a study investigating the interpersonal nature of leaders and their qualities revealed that effective listening explained at least 40% of variance in leadership.
5 key listening skills that can make you a better leader
1. Show that you care
Research shows that when you care about your employees, they are more likely to want to work harder and aim above what you expect of them. Undoubtedly, employees want to be led by people that care and have their wellbeing at the forefront of their agenda.
2. Engage in the conversation
Being more engaged in a conversation will allow your employees to feel listened to and let them know that you are fully immersed in the conversation. This can include asking questions and encouraging them to explore what they are thinking/feeling further.
3. Don’t interrupt
Interrupting the conversation can cause disengagement and disrupt the flow of the conversation which can be frustrating and sometimes distressing. Being patient and listening intently will earn respect from your employees.
4. Be empathetic
Empathy allows you to understand how the other person is feeling, so that you can respond appropriately and sensitively to the situation. Showing empathy makes you more approachable and supportive, which are important leadership qualities.
5. Don’t judge
Judging someone in a personal conversation can make them feel insecure and embarrassed. Judging a situation also shows that you are not able to embrace different opinions or beliefs. Without this, leaders will struggle to lead through inevitable change.