Learning to listen for true connection

Learning to Listen

Nov 02, 2022

Active listening can be a powerful tool for effective communication and connecting with colleagues. Ed Garvey-Long offers tips on how to get it right

It might surprise you to hear that there are different types of listening. However, I’m sure we all know the feeling of talking with someone and noticing that the other person’s attention is elsewhere, distracted by something else.

This can make us feel like the person we are talking to is undervaluing what we are saying, even though they may well be able to recall accurately what was said during the conversation. This is known as ‘passive listening.’ Its opposite—active listening—is a much more useful tool, particularly in the workplace and when connecting with colleagues.

The term ‘active listening’ was coined in the 1950s by American psychologists Carl Rogers and Richard Farson. The central idea of active listening is to be an equal participant in conversations. This allows the listener to take note of body language as well as words and will result in a more nuanced discussion.

Employing active listening will not only help your colleagues feel they have genuinely been heard but can also help build a foundation of trust within teams. Furthermore, this is a skill that anyone can learn. Below are some tips to help you become an active listener:

Slow down

When another person else is talking, we might rush to the end of the conversation, guessing what they are trying to say and getting our brains to start rehearsing what is best to say in response. In doing so, however, our attention shifts, and we risk missing important details. Don’t rush ahead!

Instead, slow down and really consider what is being said to you. Once the other person has finished speaking, taking a second before speaking is OK; maybe even ask a follow-up question about what they have just said to demonstrate that you have been listening and understood what has been said.

Notice what’s not being said

We give off more signals about our thoughts and feelings than just by using our words. Our body language can often give subtle clues about the speaker’s situation.

For example, a stressed colleague might have very tense body language, sitting hunched on their chair. Stress can also sometimes be heard in someone’s voice, making them sound strained or even quieter than usual.

If you notice these behavioural changes in someone you are conversing with, don’t interrupt them and draw attention to it. By doing so, you run the risk of making them feel uncomfortable. Instead, wait for an appropriate time to ask a question like ‘are you doing all right?’ This can reassure someone that they are being noticed and might encourage them to open up more about their situation.

Empathy is king

Everyone has difficulties in their lives from time to time, whether it be work stress, family issues or money worries, etc. When listening to someone, consider their perspective as much as possible.

They might have been nervous about having this conversation with you or are finding the topic hard to talk about. Recall how you’ve felt in the past in similar situations and behave as you wish others had behaved towards you then.

Consider the context

Active listening is a great skill to practice and can really help colleagues feel heard and help you develop your own communication skills.

However, it is essential to acknowledge that it can be quite tiring to be constantly in active listening mode. Instead, consider saving your active listening skills for important meetings, such as probation reviews or when colleagues ask to speak to you in private.

Active listening can be a powerful tool, but it’s wasted if it’s used on idle chitchat in the office kitchen!

Ed Garvey-Long is a poet and founder of Ed Garvey-Long Coaching

This article was published by Chartered Accountants Ireland at the following URL: https://www.charteredaccountants.ie/thrive-wellbeing-hub/help-and-guides/emotional-health/learning-to-listen-for-true-connection