How to practice active listening

There is a big difference between hearing and listening. The first simply implies receiving a communication - in a rather passive state - while the second requires an effort of concentration. Listening is therefore much more powerful than hearing: it means actively seeking to understand your interlocutor, identifying their fears and motivations, welcoming their ideas. It can also make it possible to read between the lines, to identify the unspoken. For all these reasons, good listening on the part of the manager fully contributes to the well-being and performance of employees.

How does your listening skills influence the behavior of your team? How to improve your listening skills in order to manage better?

Managers, why is it essential to cultivate your listening skills?

Active listening in management has been so much talked about that it has become an abstract concept. We no longer know what listening really involves for the manager, nor the impact it has on employees. However, sincere listening from caring managers directly increases the productivity of employees, simply because it is the starting point of any healthy relationship or collaboration. The proof? When we are listened to, we have nearly 5 times more confidence in our abilities to achieve our goals!

When listened to, we become 5x more confident in our ability to reach our goal-Popwork

An employee who feels listened to and understood will have more self-confidence. The current crisis shows it: employees who have forged a real bond with their company have been able to make significant efforts provided that their hierarchy was attentive to their needs. When organisations listen to the doubts or difficulties employees face, teams are reassured and know that their work will be recognized and valued. On the contrary, an employee whose manager ignores ideas, proposals or doubts will quickly feel demotivated.

Listening is all the more important in a digital world where incoming messages arrive continuously through countless channels such as Slack, Skype, Teams, Whatsapp, Trello. Faced with this overabundance of communication, we often have more difficulty focusing and listening to others. Fanny Auger, Director of the Nature et Découvertes brand, professor at Sciences Po Paris and author of Too much chatter, let's make conversations meaningful again, talks about the importance of the "Attention Quotient". Developing your AQ is crucial during a period of generalized teleworking in order to maintain team cohesion in spite of the distance.

If you don't take the time to listen, you may lose your understanding of your team, but also miss out on the best ideas. By limiting constructive dialogue, you slow down employees who want to get more involved. In the Well-being, search for meaning, engagement in corporate governance study conducted at the start of 2021 by Ifop for Philonomist, one in five employees believes that thinking and discussion patterns are not being renewed enough. This lack of constructive discussions is directly reflected in employee engagement: 77% regret that they are not more involved in strategic decisions made by the company.

demotivated man

If active listening increases productivity, mobilizes employees, builds relationships, raises confidence, improves the feeling of recognition, why not listen more and better? It is a mental gymnastics like any other, which is not complicated to implement if you adopt the right attitude on a daily basis.

How to improve your listening skills in order to manage better?

Young, we learn to read and write. Once an adult, there are training courses to help us express ourselves better and speak convincingly in front of an audience. But when do we learn to listen? Never! Listening is a skill that needs to be worked on.

Here are 6 tips to help you listen more actively:

  1. Choose to be in the moment. Meaning: no multitasking. Show the other person that you are ready to devote some time to them. In the age of digital and instant messaging, listening, and therefore conversing, becomes a choice. Put your laptop away or shut down your computer first. These simple gestures will be greatly appreciated, since they valorize your interlocutor. Then listen fully: refrain from thinking about your next presentation or the difficult conversation you need to have with another team member. Create good listening conditions and invite discussion through unequivocal gestures (open office door, team lunches, one-to-one organized on Popwork).

  2. Establish active listening. We tend to think that only speech is active. This is wrong! Listening requires self-control not to cut off or to judge the other person. This quote from American novelist Chuck Palahniuk sums it up perfectly: “Most people don't listen, they just wait for their turn to speak.” Listen with the intention of understanding and not of wanting to answer at all costs. Active listening requires concentration and empathy. Always tell yourself that you have something to learn and do not give the impression that you already know what the other is going to say. Moreover, your collaborators do not always need to know your opinion: sometimes they just need to be listened to. Give them the time and space to say what they have to say before formulating a response, and do not cut off. For example, after announcing unpleasant news to an employee, it's normal for emotions to take over. Let them express their nervousness or frustration, before intervening.
    Chuck Palahniuk memoji saying:"Most people don't listen, they just
wait for their turn to talk" - Popwork

  3. Listen to your employees as you listen to your customers. Why would your people come after your customers when they work for the company on a daily basis? Try to put yourself in other people's shoes: what does this person really have on their mind? Why did so-and-so say no to my proposal? What is his way of seeing things? Survey your team regularly, establish regular rituals, set up a suggestion box to encourage everyone to participate. This is the foundation of benevolent and participatory management, and it works!

  4. Ask relevant, open-ended questions that allow for more interesting answers than closed questions. Instead of asking, “Were you angry during our previous meeting?” Instead try “How did you feel at this morning's meeting?” Your interviewer should take time to think about their response. Result: you will have a much richer answer than a “yes” or a “no”.

  5. Pay attention to the global expression, that is to say the verbal but also the body language. Gestures, behaviors, tone of voice, the way you convey a message give as many clues to the state of mind of your interlocutor as words. An employee who comes more and more often late to the office, who no longer puts his camera in videoconference or who does not respect the deadlines ... can be so many signs of demotivation or frustration. Identifying these weak signals helps prevent the situation from escalating. So plan a one-to-one meeting in order to have a constructive exchange and if possible, privilege as much as possible face-to-face meetings. Exchanges by phone or videoconference, messages written via company chats do not allow to detect certain subtleties, including non-verbal cues.

  6. Be sure you have understood correctly. How many times have you seen a situation get complicated because of simple misunderstandings? "Speech is half for the listener, and half for the speaker" said Montaigne. Misunderstandings can quickly happen: unclear expression on one side or vague understanding on the other can be enough for a newsletter to be sent with errors, for bad information to be sent to a customer, etc. . It is often said that in a conversation, ⅓ of the message is received, ⅓ is reinterpreted, ⅓ is forgotten. To avoid unpleasant surprises, rephrase what was said in your own words. On Popwork, at the end of the weekly updates with your team, you can easily summarize and share the next steps: no more misunderstandings or lost topics!

In any conversation:monkey emoji 1 saying "is understood", monkey emoji 2 saying "is forgotten", monkey 3 saying "is reinterpreted" - Popwork

If you follow these 6 tips, there is a good chance that your employees will feel listened to, valued and therefore motivated to give the best of themselves. However, be careful not to overdo it - you should always stay in control of your time. To avoid this, frame your listening moments using clear and well-organized rituals on a tool like Popwork: weekly one-to-one meetings, monthly catch-ups, regular performance review sessions, etc.