Listening is important for personal reasons (like making a true connection or showing that we care), but recent studies also reveal that good listening – and for us that’s inclusive listening – is imperative in the workplace.
The other thing about listening is that most of us think we’re already a better than average listener. In one study of 8,000 people from different disciplines, most rated themselves as being as good as – and in many cases better than – their colleagues… hmmm. In my experience this represents a gross overstatement of one’s abilities.
In other words, most of us probably do need to improve our listening skills. And when we do, there are many rewards we might reap, particularly if we want to create a more inclusive workplace where people feel that they belong. Here are three of them:
1. Job Performance
New research suggests that listening in the workplace leads to positive outcomes for everyone involved: the listeners, the speakers and the organisation. For example, good listening is associated with better financial performance, like higher sales, and improved creativity. In addition, studies have shown that employees’ perceptions of how well their supervisors listen, positively influences their level of Organisational Citizenship Behaviour (employee conduct and attitudes that, although not strictly speaking mandated by the organisation, are typically expected of them). Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, poor listening seems to be linked to undesirable outcomes for companies, such as increased number of malpractice suits, disruptive behaviour by employees and high employee turnover.
There are a number of leadership benefits that derive from good listening.
Leaders who listen well make it easier for speakers to provide more accurate details of their accounts of events and, in this way, make it possible for those speakers to incorporate the additional details that they uncover during attentive listening into their own recollection and recital of events. Imagine, for instance, a leader who listens with interest to the circumstances of a lost sales account. Probing further into the situation, asking incisive questions, the leader goes on the journey of discovery and analysis with the speaker, allowing them to recall more relevant details. This often leads to new insights that would otherwise have not been discovered.
Leaders who don’t listen well, however, might jump to conclusions or voice their judgment about the shared event, inhibiting speakers from sharing or recalling more details, which causes the speaker to further disconnect from their own narrated experience.
Listening has also been shown to improve trust among leaders. When it comes to sharing new strategic ideas, for example, middle managers cited their willingness to do so more readily in circumstances in which they perceived their senior leaders as being willing to listen.
As mentors, leaders who listen well add clarity about the job roles and responsibilities of their mentees. Simply by providing the space for mentees to explore their understanding of the requirements of the job, mentors give the mentees the opportunity for further reflection and exploration of the various nuances of a role that would otherwise have not been that clear. So it’s perhaps not surprising that mentees have reported these benefits from mentors who listen.
In contrast, mentors who don’t listen as well, tend to create confusion in their mentee’s understanding of role and responsibility, perhaps by superimposing their own understanding of those roles.
More broadly, a leader’s ability to listen well is also strongly associated with employees’ job satisfaction and commitment to both the leader and the organisation. No wonder then that good listening is seen as a good predictor of leadership potential.
Several studies show that listening improves the speakers’ wellbeing. From improved psychological safety to reduced anxiety, emotional exhaustion and stress levels, those who are listened to, experience mental health benefits. Another facet of wellbeing that benefits from good listening is how engaged workers feel. Study after study shows that managers who listen improve work engagement in employees – and those who don’t listen reduce it.
What’s even more interesting is that it’s not only those who are listened to whose wellbeing improves. The listeners themselves also benefit, for instance, by experiencing lower levels of burnout and anxiety and an increased sense of competence in dealing with difficult people. So listening improves the wellbeing of everyone involved, be it the speaker or the listener.
Intuitively, we know how important it is to listen at work. And now we have evidence to show the correlation between good listening and myriad benefits to our peers and colleagues. So much so that, if as an organisation, we are not emphasising the importance of listening as an integral people and leadership skill, we are missing more than just a beat. We are also making it more difficult for ourselves to create a culture of inclusion.
If you would like to explore how to improve your colleague’s listening through training, we would love to share some ideas with you. Book a call with me to find out how we can help.
 Kluger, A. N., & Itzchakov, G. (in press). The power of listening at work. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior