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Mastering the Art of Active Listening

Fostering functional interpersonal relationships with your team members is all part of getting the best out of your people and your team. A powerful part of your leadership toolkit that you can utilise is the skills of active listening.

What is active listening?

Active listening has its foundation in empathy and being genuine, with some additional skills that allow you to interact. The goal is to create a safe environment for the individual to speak freely and establish trust. Ways you can do this are:

  • Move to a quiet environment: other people around and background noise can distract from the conversation, so move to a non-threatening area that allows you both to focus.

  • Body language cues: keeping eye contact and genuine facial expressions that correlate with what is being said demonstrates attention and focus on the person. I find myself caricaturing these actions when on virtual meetings.

  • Follow: give the speaker space and allow them to speak for as long as they want. Leave questions to the end and if there is a silent space, don’t fill it, give the speaker time to continue their thoughts.

  • Reflection: playing back what the person said to you – but not in exactly the same words – demonstrates that you have been listening and that you understand what they are saying, and also the feelings they are conveying. It's important to make them feel that this comes from a place of understanding, not judgement.

  • Clarifying and asking: if near the end that you feel that you need more information, ask questions in a calm way. Make sure you’re not asking something they have already covered in their conversation.

A few things to watch out for

  • Don't judge the speaker for their words and thoughts. You may need to monitor yourself so that you don't criticise or diagnose the situation.
  • Human nature makes us want to find solutions, but what you perceive to be supportive can create an imbalance and may leave the speaker feeling unheard and disempowered about finding their own resolution.
  • Don't avoid or gloss over what the person is sharing, even though the topic may make you uncomfortable. This can either be around what is being said or the emotion it is being said in.
  • Leave reassurance at the door as this can lead to the other person shutting down as they feel this is the end of the conversation.

Active listening can deepen your relationships with your team, allow you to really understand their needs – and the wider work environment – and create engaged Team members who feel supported and heard.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Management Services