EngagementCultureActive listening is the key to engaging employees

Active listening is the key to engaging employees

How can you increase employee engagement when budgets are constantly being put under pressure? Julia Lindsay, CEO of iOpener Institute for People and Performance explores. 

We are all facing a challenging economic environment because of continued Brexit uncertainty, retail chains closing and nervous consumer confidence. Any initiatives that can increase performance and productivity will help us to be competitive in this high change environment. By increasing colleagues’ happiness at work, our research shows you can reduce employee turnover, reduce absence and improve productivity.

So where does listening come in?

Your employees’ happiness at work is underpinned by three key things:

  • Trust in your organisation
  • Recognition from your organisation for a job well done
  • Pride in your organisation

Listening is a vital skill for leaders that can support all these. By actively listening you show you are interested in colleagues’ thoughts and opinions. This is a type of Recognition and it can build a sense of Pride, helping colleagues give their best at work. By contrast, when people feel they are not listened to, they often feel helpless and unable to influence their situation. They are more likely to disengage from your organization and consider their future outside your company.

‘Listening is core to everything’

Entrepreneur Bill Liao said that “If you are going to achieve anything you have to listen.” He identifies different types of listening:

  1. Listening for the gap – the gap in which you can express your thoughts or point of view. In this case, you are not really listening to what the other person is saying – simply listening for the space in which you can talk (rather than listen).
  2. Listening to judge – In this type of listening you are immediately thinking about your own thoughts and judgments on what the person is saying before you have expressed them. You have stopped listening to them but are listening to your own thoughts instead.
  3. Sympathy listening – where you look like you are listening. You understand that someone is upset and needs space to share their concerns. However, you are not actually listening to their words or aiming to understand their issues – simply giving them the airtime they need whilst you think about something else.
  4. Listening to recreate – also known as active listening. Here you are listening with both your ears and your eyes – trying to actually connect with the underlying thoughts and feelings that someone is trying to express. You suspend your own judgment and block out your own thoughts to really engage with what the person is (and maybe isn’t) really saying.

Listening to recreate is hugely powerful in any organisation

So how do you increase your listening skills? As a leader, self-awareness is key so try this today. Keep a log for 4-8 hours, noting who you listen to, who you don’t listen to and why. Consider the different types of listening that you might be using in each situation. Analyse your findings. How could you focus on listening more? Which particular types of listening can you focus on? Draw conclusions, implement and review. Listening is both an art and a science – a skill which can be honed over time, that could make a real difference to your organisation.

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