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How to be a better listener

  14th August 2019       Michelle Brennan
 Accounting & Finance, Company News, Engineering, Science & Space, Executive Search, Human Resources, IT & Software Solutions, Office & Commercial

The workplace environment gathers together people from all walks of life and sees them sit in close proximity for around eight hours a day. It’s only natural for friendships to form and conversations to flow but has it ever occurred to you that those ‘water cooler moments’ or appraisals may contain red flags or warning signs that something isn’t quite right with a colleague?

We’ve just come off the back of the Samaritans’ Talk To Us campaign, which is just one of the ways the charity is getting people to share their worries. It’s great that a more accepting environment is being created but for every person opening up, there needs to be someone listening at the other end.

A variety of problems can be disclosed in the workplace, which could include bullying, pressure from workloads, discrimination and harassment, as well as wider issues such as financial woes, family struggles, depression and other mental health matters. The opportunities to listen will also take different forms, such as formal meetings, gossipy chats and one-to-one confessions.

Although there’s an assumption that listening is intuitive, many of us need reminding of how to meaningfully listen. Here’s a refresher on how you can improve your listening skills:-

Stay focused – the skill is not to let your mind wander, zone out, make assumptions or jump ahead to think of what might be coming next. Focus on the person and what they are saying, and if you feel you’re being distracted by outside influences or noise, suggest moving somewhere quieter.

Time your questions – if someone has opened up to you, let them talk and try not to interrupt while they are mid flow. It’s natural to want to ask questions but save them for any natural pauses in the conversation or for the end.

Keep eye contact – many of our core social skills are dying off as we’re so reliant on screens but good listening needs to be all eyes as well as all ears.  Resist the temptation to look beyond the person or out of the window, and definitely don’t browse on your phone.

Stay impartial – if you have become a workplace confident, someone may disclose a contentious problem that you personally have strong feelings about. Concentrating on the facts will help you stay impartial and will stop your own opinions clouding the conversation.

Offer help or advice – if someone had found the courage to open up, it’s usually because they’ve reached the point of needing help. Ask what the person would like to happen next and whether they feel comfortable with you speaking to others about the problem – such as their line manager or HR. It’s wise to build a plan together so they’re happy about the next step.

Recap at the end – if you’re involved in a confidential conversation, there may be a lot to take in and of a serious nature. It’s worth summarising the main points at the end to ensure you’ve listened accurately and to reinforce that their concerns are taken seriously.

Make a date to meet again – listening once isn’t normally enough so if you detect there is an issue that needs addressing or you’ve offered advice on how to take action, set a date to meet the person again to discuss progress. This will reinforce that point that you’re invested in the person’s welfare.

Michelle Brennan

Senior Recruitment Consultant

With a background in sales and marketing and over 15 years’ experience recruiting in Bournemouth, Michelle has an in-depth knowledge of the local job market and has developed strong long-standing relationships with both clients and candidates in the area. Challenge-driven and committed to going the extra mile, Michelle is an …


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