Listening is a terribly undervalued skill that helps create a more productive workplace. Here is how you can be a better listener and consequentially, a better leader.
You’re Worse at Listening Than You Realize
In one survey from Accenture, 96% of respondents said they considered themselves good listeners. And yet, it turns out that we only retain around half of what people say to us, and that number sinks even lower with age.
There are several studies that examine this phenomenon. While most of our daily activities require active listening, the average adult will soon forget the information they received. Here’s one scary result: a group of adults was asked to attend a ten-minute oral presentation, and later describe its content. Half of the test takers could not recall the information moments after the talk, and 48 hours later, 75% of listeners couldn’t even recall what the topic was.
There’s no excuse, the potential is there: the human brain has the extraordinary capacity to digest as much as 400 words per minute of information. If you consider the fact that the average speaker talks at around 125 words per minute, our listening skills are quite disappointing.
People Desperately Want to Be Heard
So, now we can all admit that we’re not really listening. Or rather, that we don’t listen as carefully as we should and we forget easily. Why is that?
In her book “The Lost Art of Connecting”, Susan McPherson points us to a brilliant example regarding Julian Treasure’s popular Ted Talks. His video titled “How to speak so that people want to listen” has over 34 million views. Unfortunately, his talk “5 ways to listen better” has less than 4 million.
So, even though we spend 45% of our communication time listening and only 30% talking, we’re far more interested in improving our speaking ability.
The Importance of Listening in the Workplace
In order to become a better leader and create a productive work environment, you should make a commitment to listen to your employees. This means no distractions, no selfishness, and complete openness.
Active listening is an immersive experience, that requires you to focus completely on the other person. Here is how you can improve your listening as a leader.
- Stop thinking about you. In a conversation, some people are only waiting for their time to talk. Don’t be that person. Even if you’re an expert in the field, let the other person lead the dialogue and see where that takes you.
- Pay attention. Active listening requires you to focus strictly on the conversation. Don’t let your phone distract you and do not try to multitask. With that, you should also pay to facial expressions, posture, and body language if you want to hear the full story.
- Go with the flow. Use questions to help the conversation roll on and to make sure you’re understanding information correctly, but remember that silence and pauses allow every participant to gather their thoughts.
What Happens When Employees Feel Heard
Active listening is the foundation of successful communication. It promotes the feeling of being valued or heard and creates a feeling of trust. In the workplace, this is a valuable component that helps strengthen relationships among colleagues, and between the employer and the employee.
Not only does active listening make the work environment more pleasant, but it also helps the listener retain more of the conversation and thus follow directions more easily.
A magazine article from 1957 explained it wonderfully:
As business becomes more and more tied together by its systems of communication, leaders need to understand that the effectiveness of the spoken word hinges not so much on how people talk as on how they listen.