We all want to feel seen — and heard, whether at work or at home. And managers who are great listeners tend to have employees who are more satisfied in their jobs. Business leader Shiela Mie Legaspi explores what it means to be a great listener and how to improve your listening skills as a manager.
In my experience, many business leaders assume that boosting pay is the best way to increase employees’ job satisfaction. However, studies show satisfaction when their supervisors listen to them is higher than when they get a raise.
That alone is a compelling reason why more businesses should train their managers in effective listening skills and prioritize time spent listening to their team members, but there are other reasons as well. Listening also improves leadership’s effectiveness, employees’ job performance and well-being and mutual workplace trust.
Moreover, when managers don’t listen effectively, employees can become alienated and disgruntled, which leads to further problems, including lower productivity and higher turnover. In comparison, employees who report being well-supported by their manager are more than three times more likely to describe themselves as feeling engaged with their work.
What you gain by listening
As a manager, it’s your job to understand what truly motivates people, and you can only do that when you get to know them, including their unique priorities and what values drive them. Once you understand what makes each person tick, you can develop strategies that will activate them to perform their best. That means giving others space and encouragement to show their authentic selves.
But pinning down motivation is only one part of what it means to have an engaged workforce, which is as close to a surefire solution for success as you can get. Only an engaged workforce can tell you what operational barriers you’re overlooking or sniff out potential compliance lapses — and care enough to nip them in the bud.
Good listening can create a pay-it-forward culture where open communication feeds into collaboration and engagement and vice-versa, writes John Baldoni in the Harvard Business Review, citing Gallup’s research showing that higher engagement leads to higher productivity.
But it’s when times are bad that a good listener can really set employees on the right path. Say your business has recently gone through a round of layoffs, leaving people feeling understandably anxious. These difficult emotions can inhibit them from producing at their maximum potential, as they fear their jobs might be next. A manager with good listening skills can make sure people are heard and that their fears are taken seriously, and a Penn State University study found that managers can assuage job insecurity with active listening.
Not all listening is sufficient
Listening is important, but not all listening actually works. Listening must be combined with action. One survey found that only 23% of people said their boss responded constructively when they raised a concern at work, and 17% of bosses never responded at all.
Another survey found that failure to follow up on concerns reduced the likelihood that an employee would speak up in the future. As the study’s authors said: “When an employee must decide whether to speak up about organizational ideas, offer ideas, engage creatively with work or engage in organizational citizenship behaviors, such decisions are influenced by prior impressions of how well a listener tends to listen.”
As with any useful, important skill, active listening isn’t something you can pick up in a weekend. True active listening is the product of being present in the moment and requires eliminating other thoughts that might crowd your brain. It involves suspending judgment, asking questions and refraining from reacting without taking time to reflect fully.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, mindful listening means slowing down. This can be hard to do, but that’s why listening is a practice that must be incorporated into the every day and turned into a long-term practice.
If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But the good news is that practicing this kind of active, advanced listening won’t just benefit your employees and boost their productivity. Studies show it will also increase your ability to concentrate, boost your creativity, improve your self-confidence and leadership skills, reduce mental health challenges like depression and anxiety and even reduce insomnia.