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Career Development Tips

Active Listening in the Workplace

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Guide Overview

What's the active listening definition?Why is active listening important?Signs of active listeningHow to use active listening in the workplace

Guide Overview

Understanding active listening

Being able to comprehend what your colleagues are saying and then offering valuable feedback is an important part of being a team player. One way to do this is by applying your active listening skills to every interaction you have. By showing your coworkers you are truly listening to what they are saying, you can build stronger interoffice relationships and facilitate better communication. Get to know more about the definition of active listening, why it's an important skill to have, non-verbal and verbal listening cues, and how to be a better listener in the workplace.

What's the active listening definition?

Active listening is an important communication skill. It is the process of going beyond listening and actually being attentive to what someone is saying. As the other person is speaking, you work to understand what they are communicating and focus on their words rather than your own thoughts. Someone who is a good active listener makes the other person feel heard and valued. They also wait to add in their own thoughts until the other person has finished what they wanted to say.

Why is active listening important?

Active listening is an essential part of creating positive relationships at work. People tend to gravitate toward active listeners because they feel valued and respected when talking with them. Active listening can also help you get the most out of a conversation. It’s a skill that helps you absorb more information and process what another person is saying. It helps you focus on important conversations and avoid the chance of zoning out on what your colleague or employer shares.

Signs of active listening

There are both verbal and non-verbal signs of active listening. These are cues that show the speaker that you understanding what they are saying.

Here are a few verbal signs of active listening:

  • Paraphrasing: Summarizing what the speaker just said shows them that you comprehend. Rather than giving a verbatim summary, highlight a few of their main points.
  • Asking thoughtful questions: These are questions that confirm or clarify what the speaker is saying or add to the conversation. When asking questions, think about what they just said in order to avoid questions that were already answered.
  • Positive encouragement: As someone is speaking, you can use subtle words or phrases to encourage them to continue. ‘Mhm,’ ‘yes,’ and ‘very good’ can be helpful when you use them sparingly. Oftentimes it is best to use non-verbal cues as they are speaking so you don’t interrupt their train of thought.

Here are a few non-verbal signs:

  • Eye contact: Giving eye contact can be seen as a sign of respect. The amount of eye contact you give to the speaker can depend on the situation. For example, if the speaker appears nervous, don’t be overbearing with your eye contact. However, if they initiate it, maintain a decent amount of it. Combining eye contact with other non-verbal cues can make you appear more friendly.
  • Smiling: Looking pleased as someone is speaking can encourage them to continue their thoughts and feel at ease. It’s a simple way to affirm their thoughts and show that you are open to what they are sharing.
  • Nodding: This is another positive way to show someone you are agreeing or at least understanding what they are saying. When using head nods, make it subtle and not overly noticeable.
  • Posture: Sitting up straight and leaning slightly forward is how someone engaged in a conversation looks. If you are standing, keep your body and feet pointed toward the speaker instead of facing away. This can show that you are invested in this conversation rather than looking for a way out. Likewise, you are staying still and not fidgeting.
  • Mirroring: This a non-verbal cue you may not even be aware of when you are fully focused on a conversation. It’s when the listener feels so much sympathy or empathy that they begin to automatically reflect the body language and facial expressions of the speaker.

How to use active listening in the workplace

Active listening at work can help you get to know your colleagues better and show others that you care about their thoughts and opinions. By following these steps, you can improve your listening skills:

  1. Quiet your thoughts. This may take a bit of practice, but learning how to turn off your own thoughts and solely focus on what the speaker is saying is a big part of being a good listener. Rather than preparing your response, live in the present so you can absorb everything they are sharing. You may find that they will eventually address many of the questions or concerns you were planning to bring up anyway.
  2. Use verbal and non-verbal cues. Naturally using the verbal and non-verbal cues discussed earlier can make the speaker feel important and respected. A combination of smiling, head nods, and eye contact may give them the affirmation they need to feel confident as they talk. Likewise, being mindful of your posture conveys a lot about your listening level. Using these non-verbal cues with paraphrasing, asking thoughtful questions, and giving positive encouragement is how you can be a respectful listener.
  3. Avoid judgment: Until they are finished speaking, avoid drawing conclusions or judgments. First, listen to what they are saying at face value and then begin to reflect on what they shared afterward.
  4. Give a thoughtful response. After the speaker is finished, give them appropriate feedback. This may be follow-up questions or sharing your own open and honest thoughts. By adding to their dialogue, they can continue to share even more information and insights.

Using these steps can help you become a more thoughtful colleague or employee and a better listener. By fully focusing on what others are saying, you can learn a lot more and make a positive impact at work.

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