The constant influx of emails. Pings from Slack notifications. That one neighbor whose dog barks constantly. In the era of hybrid and remote work environments, it’s easy to get distracted and miss important details. That’s where active listening comes in. Active listening allows you to cut through the noise and better connect with your colleagues and clients.
Here, we’ll explore how active listening works, why it’s vital in the workplace, and techniques to become a better listener. We’ll also suggest digital tools that support active listening.
What is active listening?
Active listening is the process of being attentive and engaged when listening to someone.
“If we are actively listening, we are leaning in,” says Heather R. Younger, author of The Art of Active Listening, in a video shared on her YouTube channel. “We are removing our filters. We are seeking to serve [the speaker], not just get something out of it.”
Psychologists Carl Rogers and Richard Farson introduced the term “active listening” in 1957. In an excerpt from their book, the pair say that active listening allows people to “become more emotionally mature, more open to their experiences, less defensive, more democratic, and less authoritarian.”
Rogers went on to define the “A’s” of active listening. While there are different interpretations of this list, we’ll refer to three “A” as:
- Attitude: Good listeners are open-minded. They listen without judgment and do not interrupt.
- Attention: Good listeners are present and show speakers that they value their message.
- Adjustment: Good listeners are flexible. They can shift their communication style to match the speaker.
Obstacles to active listening
While most of us aim to be active listeners, doing so can be challenging. A paper published by Boston University outlines four significant barriers to active listening, including:
- Fixing: Listeners jump to solve a speaker’s problem—diagnosing the conflict or giving advice—without fully understanding what the speaker is experiencing.
- Evaluating: Listeners become distracted by their biases. This can look like taking sides or using judgmental language.
- Diverting: Listeners tend to focus on their own agendas or change the subject.
- Interrupting: Listeners share their opinions without letting the speaker finish their thought. Interrupting can also happen when we allow distractions or react to them.
What are the benefits of active listening in the workplace?
Effective communication is essential in any workplace. And with the rise of hybrid and remote work environments, interpersonal skills like active listening have become even more critical. The benefits of active listening include the following:
Active listening allows teams to build strong working relationships. It shows respect and builds trust among colleagues. And teams can ensure they capture all points of view.
“Oftentimes, different perspectives get overlooked, especially when they don’t align with the managers,” writes Melanie Ammerman, co-founder of VaVa Virtual Assistants, in a recent Forbes article.
By using active listening, teams can reduce misunderstandings and improve conflict resolution, leading to more efficient and effective decision-making.
Improved customer service
Active listening not only benefits internal stakeholders. It is also essential for customer-facing roles. By employing empathic listening, employees can create a more personalized experience and drive sales.
What does active listening in the workplace look like?
Active listening requires colleagues to show interest in the speaker’s message and demonstrate empathy. According to the same Boston University report, active listening occurs in four ways.
When paraphrasing, the listener conveys their understanding of the speaker’s key points by restating them in their own words. For example:
- Speaker: I’m feeling overwhelmed by this project. There’s so much to do, and the deadline is only a week away.
- Listener: It sounds like you’re feeling stressed by this project and worried about completing it on time.
The listener identifies topics that may have been unclear and allows the speaker to elaborate. By clarifying, the listener avoids miscommunication. For example:
- Speaker: Can you finish the project by the end of the week?
- Listener: When you say “end of the week,” do you mean by the end of the workday on Friday, or do you need it by a specific time?
When reflecting, a listener summarizes the main points, checks for understanding, and empathizes with the speaker. For example:
- Speaker: I’m unsure if I understand the new project management system. I’m worried I’ll miss something or update projects incorrectly.
- Listener: It sounds like you feel uncertain about the new platform and may need additional resources. Is that correct?
Summarizing refers to capturing the speaker’s main idea into a brief statement. This response can be helpful when the speaker has presented a lot of information. By summarizing, the listeners can organize their learning and identify areas for clarification. For example:
- Speaker: I think we should consider hiring more staff to meet our sales targets. We’re currently falling behind on our quarterly goals. Our sales reps also don’t have the time to enter information into our customer management system (CMS).
- Listener: If I understand correctly, you suggest hiring more staff to ensure we meet our goals. Our sales representatives also don’t have the time to enter data into our CMS. Is this correct?
5 techniques to improve your active listening skills
You can use several active listening techniques to enhance your ability to understand, process, and respond thoughtfully to colleagues and clients. Here are five tips to sharpen your active listening skills in the workplace.
- Eliminate distractions: If you are physically in a meeting, close your laptop and remove your phone from the table. In virtual meetings, create a quiet environment, silence notifications, and refrain from multitasking..
- Listen more than you talk: Be mindful of your speaking habits to ensure you are not dominating the conversation. Encourage others to speak and ask open-ended questions.
- Avoid interrupting: Let the speaker finish their thought before responding. If you’re worried about forgetting a question, make a quick note. If speaking virtually, use the chat box to record your question.
- Use verbal and non-verbal cues: Nod your head, maintain eye contact with the person speaking, and monitor your facial expressions. Focus on your body language to indicate that you are paying attention (e.g., avoid fidgeting, practice good posture, and lean forward). You can also use a few verbal phrases like “I see” or “Hmm” as acknowledgment.
- Use video conferencing tools during virtual meetings: Turn your camera on when possible to increase nonverbal communication during virtual meetings. You can also use emoji reactions—such as the clapping reaction to indicate you agree—to signal that colleagues have your full attention.
3 tools that make active listening easier in the workplace
Technology continues to revolutionize how we work, including enhancing our communication skills. Here are three tools to help employees improve their active listening skills and engage in meaningful conversations.
Image description: The Supernormal platform allows users to read automated notes or the transcript from a meeting.
Supernormal is an AI-powered note-taking tool trusted by over 50,000 people.
- Record audio and video: Supernormal’s bot, Norm, records and transcribes meetings.
- Calendar integration: Supernormal will automatically join and record any meeting.
- Generate meeting notes: Supernormal generates meeting notes, summarizes key takeaways or questions, and identifies action items.
- Users can search meetings, notes, and transcripts in the Supernormal platform.
- Supernormal can record, transcribe conversations, and generate meeting notes in different languages, including English, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese.
- Supernormal works with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.
Pricing: Our Starter plan is free forever. The Pro plan starts at $24 per month for five users.
Image source: Krisp
Krisp is a noise cancellation platform that improves online communication.
- Background noise cancellation: Krisp detects and removes all background noise generated by you or your participants.
- Call summary: Krisp displays real-time insights, including the talk time of each participant and meeting length.
- Meeting notes: Krisp transcribes and summarizes meetings.
- The platform is compatible with any headset, microphone, or speaker on Mac or Windows desktops or laptops.
- Calendar integrations ensure Krisp automatically joins meetings.
- Users can share meeting notes with colleagues.
- Krisp can only transcribe English.
Pricing: They have a Free plan, and the Pro plan is $12 per month per seat.
Image source: Mural
Mural improves collaboration with digital brainstorming tools.
- Collaboration space: Use sticky notes, mapping, diagramming, icons, GIFs, and images to brainstorm ideas.
- Templates: Organize your brainstorming session with hundreds of templates.
- Share murals: Distribute murals and receive additional feedback even after the meeting ends.
- Set time limits for each brainstorming task to help teams stay focused.
- Private mode allows colleagues to brainstorm individually before sharing with the group, preventing groupthink.
- Companies can choose from over 40 integrations to expand functionality or build their own with Mural API.
- The platform has a steep learning curve.
Pricing: There is a Free plan. The Team+ plan is $12 per member per month. The Business plan is $17.99 per member per month. The Business plan is billed annually.
Boost your active listening skills with Supernormal
Active listening can improve collaboration, drive productivity, and enhance decision-making. But while most employees want to be effective listeners, it isn’t always easy. That’s where Supernormal can help.
With Supernormal, meeting participants don’t have to worry about taking notes or missing essential details. Instead, they can eliminate multitasking, remain engaged, and make meetings more productive.
Sign up today and get 1,000 minutes of free AI note-taking and engage in active listening in every meeting.