How to Improve Your Listening Skills

Listening skills in the workplace are hugely underrated. Breakdowns in listening can cause unnecessary miscommunication and conflict. Listening is one of the most important skills you can develop and positively affects your working relationship and job satisfaction. 

Listening skills in communication can lead to increased information sharing contributing to higher productivity levels with fewer mistakes and conflict. Many successful leaders attribute strong listening skills to their success, including Richard Branson, who frequently credits listening as one of the primary reasons behind the success of Virgin. It's no surprise that employers are now beginning to understand listening skills importance and provide listening training for their employees.

Listening skills in the workplace positively correlate with numerous benefits, so it is essential to consider the importance of listening skills and how you can help improve the listening skills of your employees. 

What are Listening Skills?

Listening skills demonstrate your ability to receive and interpret messages in the communication process accurately. Active listening is a valuable technique requiring a listener to thoroughly understand, retain and respond to what someone is communicating. There are many types of listening skills in communication. These skills include observing the speaker's behaviour and body language to understand their message fully. 

Why are Listening Skills Important?

Article after article has shown that active listening is an essential characteristic of communication. So, why is it difficult for some people? 

We all have co-workers or bosses who seem to interrupt us at any chance, whether assigning a task or telling a story. Listening is as vital as knowing how to communicate your thoughts and feelings effectively. Effective listening skills help you to understand and make sense of what another person is communicating. Without accurately interpreting what someone else is saying, messages are likely to be misunderstood and can quickly lead to conflict. 

Peter Nulty, an author of the National Business Hall of Fame, suggests listening skills in the workplace is the most valuable leadership skill and the least understood. "Most captains of the industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That's how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities." 

Article after article has shown that listening is an important characteristic of an effective leader. So, why is it difficult for some leaders? 

What Causes Poor Listening?

But what are the main causes of poor listening skills? Often, we are in a rush to communicate our message and don't leave room for the other person to respond. Or, sometimes, we are too focused on what we are going to say next. As a result, when we aren't talking, we are thinking about how to respond. Other barriers to active listening include distractions from other people, electronic devices, or competing thoughts. Often, a lack of self-awareness around our communication and listening tendencies can also contribute to the causes of poor listening.

We need to use all tools available to us to improve how we listen to other Team Members. Two ways to do this are through the use of DISC and active listening techniques.

How to Improve Listening Skills in the Workplace

There are many active listening techniques available to us to help build our listening skills in the workplace. Some of the most simple active listening techniques to improve listening skills at the workplace are keeping eye contact, observing body language, and concentrating on what is being said. Another effective strategy to improve listening skills in the workplace is to undergo a DISC assessment to build self-awareness and employ various listening techniques. If you are looking to improve your listening skills, a DISC assessment is great place to start to understand your communication tendencies.

How to Improve Listening Skills using DISC

A listening skills assessment such as a DISC assessment can help us recognise how we naturally approach listening and any development areas we need to improve. Our development areas require us to use more energy and effort. Bringing these to the forefront of our awareness helps us actively focus on things we may not do when listening to someone else. Once we are aware of our listening strengths and development areas, we can begin to make small adjustments to listen to others impressively. A team profile assessment can help improve the effectiveness of the workforce in a relatively short space of time.

We typically teach businesses a three-step model to improve listening skills using a DISC listening skills assessment during listening training. 

  1. Step one: Learn to recognise the similarities and differences between the four primary DISC personality types. Understand your unique DISC Style and how you prefer to communicate and listen.
  2. Step two: Learn how to recognise other DISC Styles. There is a very high possibility your team members will not have the same DISC Style as you and will not communicate in the same way. 
    • The personality types have preferred ways in which they are more comfortable when interacting with others. Some DISC personality types share similarities in their approach to communication, and some are very different. 
    • D styles listen to short explanations, want to know how it will benefit them, and become impatient if the conversion is dragging on. 
    • I styles typically do not listen for too long, and they prefer to be the one that is talking. I personality types like to participate in discussions as a way of socialising. 
    • S styles are generally good listeners. They are very patient and pay attention for a long time. They can see things from many points of view and can therefore offer help to others. Even if they disagree with what is being said, an I personality type's non-verbal communication will show the opposite.
    • C styles are very eager to learn if they are interested in a conversation. They have difficulty listening if a conversion is not presented logically and often look for errors.
    • Taking our learnings from step one, we can begin to understand how our communication and listening approach may differ significantly from the person sitting next to us. We can apply these learnings to know how to improve listening skills in the workplace.
  3. Step three: Modify your DISC style to communicate more effectively with others. Once you have made these adjustments to your listening style, you can better engage others. Your team members will be attentive to what you are saying, and you will most likely achieve a better outcome. 

DISC is not about changing everything about yourself. DISC theory's philosophy is to understand yourself and others around you better and consider making small adjustments during crucial moments in your interactions with others. These modifications may be as simple as taking the time to have a detailed conversation, being brief with your interactions, or being more upbeat when interacting with a colleague. The result will benefit both you as a leader and maximise the exchange of ideas and information.

Types of Listening Skills

Combining DISC theory with proven active listening techniques can significantly improve listening skills. Employing these listening skills types will drastically improve how we listen to others. 

The three main types of listening skills are:

  1. Empathetic Listening
  2. Critical Listening
  3. Appreciative Listening

Empathetic Listening Techniques

Research shows that active listening, combined with empathy is one of the most effective forms of listening. Active and empathetic listening involves using non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, i.e. nodding of the head, to display attentiveness.

Effective, empathetic listening also involves verbal cues such as summarising a conversation or asking for clarification to demonstrate understanding. Sample phrases include: "I would like to hear more about your perspective" or "here are a couple of key points that I heard from this meeting."

Critical Listening Techniques

Critical listening is the process a listener goes through to listen, analyse, and evaluate a message. The listener derives whether the speaker's message is valid and accurate in light of factual evidence. Without critical listening, we are more likely to be persuaded by illogical and untrue communication based more on opinion than fact.

Appreciative Listening Techniques

With this technique, listeners are listening for enjoyment, admiration, or pleasure. A good example is listening to music where we listen for entertainment or relaxation. Another example is motivational speakers who we hold in high regard and listen to as we admire them.

Ultimately, engaging with others in a way that suits their behavioural style, taking the time to listen and respond, rather than endlessly debating, are the keys to improve listening skills. Understanding various listening techniques can also build awareness of how we are listening or not listening to someone. Using these theories and methods, we can drastically improve our listening skills.

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