What is Active Listening? Add This To Your Employee Reviews

What if you could understand what your employees were really trying to say? You could get past those all too familiar communication hurdles, even when working with quieter members of your team.

That’s exactly what active listening can do for your organisation. It’s a powerful practice that enables you to draw more information from those around you. Here’s everything you need to get started.

What is active listening?

Active listening is the practice of listening beyond verbal cues. You hear the words someone is saying but, at the same time, you’re able to look beyond that to “listen” to their body language too.

When practising active listening, you’re fully focused on listening rather than thinking about how you’re going to respond. It’s about being fully present in the conversation, so that you’re able to paraphrase and reflect back what has been said by the other person.

What are the benefits of active listening? This is why your organisation should care

The big communication problem

86% of employees and executives cite a lack of effective communication as the main cause of workplace failures. This leads to missed deadlines, low employee morale, missed performance goals and lost sales. Combine all those together and you’ve got a nightmare for any company.

The Irish playwright, George Barnard Shaw, once said “the greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished”. And he couldn’t have been more accurate.

Most of us think that communication is just about the words that we say, but it’s far more complex than that. It’s about the tone we use, how we hold ourselves, our facial expressions, our body language and so much more.

Using active listening as the ultimate communication tool

When you bring active listening into your communication toolbox, you can look past the words the other person is speaking and understand the bigger picture instead.

Active listening allows your communication partner to feel understood, which then promotes rapport and trust. And the beauty of it is that it can be applied to almost anything.

I’ve worked with corporate clients to use active listening to transform their relationship with their colleagues, their team and their boss.

Why bring active listening into your employee reviews?

Employee reviews, or performance reviews, are most commonly known as a time to assess an employee’s progress and provide recommendations and feedback. But that feedback will never be effective if you, the manager, aren’t able to understand or interpret the concerns that your employee is raising.

Active listening enables you to truly understand what your employees are saying, whilst also looking beyond the verbal cues to understand how they’re feeling whilst they’re saying these words. You’re able to show that you care about your employees’ performance but also about them as a person.

And finally, you can also utilise active listening as a training tool if one of your employee reviews reveals that communication is a barrier to their success.

The outcomes you can expect from active listening

I’ve had reports of clients finding out so much more about their colleagues when using active listening, compared to their standard mode of communication before.

They’ve said that they’re able to understand their team members’ issues better and in more detail. And they have revealed that they were able to arrive at better solutions to team problems, by using active listening to understand the perspectives of everyone involved.

How to start using active listening in your workplace

There are three key phases to using active listening as a confident communication tool:

  1. Start by consciously practising active listening. This means being fully present in your conversation, with no phones, no interruptions, no looking around. And definitely not thinking about what you want to say in response (this is one of the trickiest phases to master but also one of the most important!)
  2. Then, move onto observing the other person’s body language. Try to tune into their non-verbal cues and what their facial expressions, body language and how they hold themselves is telling you with each word that they speak
  3. Finally, practice paraphrasing the conversation. Once your conversation partner has finished speaking, reflect the conversation back to them. Not only is this a useful method to check that you’ve understood what they were trying to communicate, it’ll also show them the care and attention you’re giving them, which can help to boost employee morale

The key to effective communication with active listening

Like any new skill, active listening takes practice to get it right. But, again, like any new skill, the results are well worth the effort.

One of the hardest phases of the cycle is getting used to being fully present in the conversation. We’re so used to going through our days with constant distractions, from endless email notifications, to phone calls and questions from our well-meaning colleagues.

Try to make it a little easier on yourself whilst you’re getting used to the practice and remove as many distractions as you can. Leave your phone outside the room, tell your team that you can’t be disturbed and set strict boundaries for any potential interruptions.

Finally, remember that it is a practice. Don’t be put off if you don’t get it right the first time!

Get the help you need to transform your team’s communication with active listening

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About the author

Lisa is a mother, a business owner, a founder, and an executive leader. She's been through it all and has come out the other side to thrive. Now she's helping you to do the same! Learn how you can find clarity and support through her services for individuals and organisations.