Why Active Listening Skills are Important at Work
Last updated July 20, 2022
In every work context, whether you are starting your first job or you've already had multiple jobs, there is one skill that you need to set you apart: active listening. This skill not only will set you apart at your first job, but it will also help you as you work to go down your preferred career path. We are constantly taking in information - through text on our phones, through headphones, and people talking around us - so it can seem like we are always listening to something. However, active listening is so much more than just hearing.
What is Active Listening?
Where hearing someone speak is passive, really listening to them is intentional and active. One definition of active listening is the ability to focus completely on someone speaking, understand what they are saying, and be able to thoughtfully respond.
By building your active listening skills you will become a more effective teammate, a more intentional questioner, and someone that people depend on and look to for support. These are all key traits to grow as you enter any professional setting. Below we will outline some key ways to build your active listening skills and the benefits of working on becoming an excellent listener.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
A key way to become a better listener is to ask great questions. When someone shares something with you, follow up with a question that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. This shows you are really listening and care about their perspective. For example, “Wow, thanks for sharing about your experience when you started at this job. What kinds of things do you wish you knew when you started?" Asking open-ended questions shows the person you're talking to - whether it is your manager or a customer - that you care about them and are truly interested in making sure you understand what they need and how you can help. This skill helps you on the job and it is also an important interview echnique. By asking questions at work or in interviews, you'll gain a deeper understanding of what you like and dislike about any particular job on your path to a fulfilling career.
We have the world at our fingertips at any given moment, but when you’re practicing active listening the only thing that matters is what the other person is saying! Try to show them this with your body language: put your phone away, make eye contact, and smile or nod along. This tells them you’re listening and also reminds you to keep engaged. Attention, however, is not always something we have control over. Some folks have attention disorders and may qualify for accommodations at work. There are laws that protect your rights as an employee so if you do have a disability, be sure to talk to your human resources representative to make sure your rights are being respected and protected.
Benefits of Active Listening
As you practice active listening at work, with your friends, at school, and with family, you will start to see some key benefits. These are things to notice and celebrate!
When you fully listen to a coworker, a boss, or a customer you are showing them just how much you care about them as a human. This can open up collaboration and make people feel safe confiding in you. Think about a person in your life that is always down to hear how your day was or to help you solve a problem. Through asking questions and actively listening, you can become that go-to person at work and in life!
If you are able to actively listen to your coworkers or customers, you’ll be able to listen for potential problems and work with them to create solutions together. Problem-solving is a skill that you are going to see on every job posting and job description from now until you retire! Being able to practice collaborative problem-solving on the job starts with listening. The best teams are great communicators and when you bring your listening skills to the team, you'll be leading through empathy and creative thinking.
Everyone around you at work has something to teach you! When you’re curious and actively listening, you can take in great tips and wisdom. If you see someone at work who you think does great work or who has a job you might want someday, ask them to tell you how they got there. As you put your open-ended questions and active listening to work, they may just hand you the secrets to their success!