The importance of listening: Skills for building trust in the workplace
We’ve all been there: you gripe to a friend or colleague in hopes of getting a quick pep talk or show of support, and leave feeling more frustrated because all they did was end up talking about themselves.
That’s because despite our best intentions, many of us make the mistake of trying to fix other people’s problems instead of simply lending an ear. That means we’re also missing out on the chance to build trust and show empathy, which are both important traits in leadership roles.
Building trust in the workplace
“We have a way of trying to help or solve versus listen,” says Beau Brousseau, a facilitator for On Your Feet which uses improv principles to help companies with communication, including at events with Global Sessions. Their Portland-based team considers themselves master communicators, since improvisation means they have to take things out of thin air and weave them into a performance. If they’re not actively listening to each other on stage, things get missed and the schtick falls flat—similar to how your colleague might feel.
Brosseau suggests that if someone comes to you with an issue, listen to what they care about.
“Try to find what’s under the words that they’re saying, because usually they’re under the surface. It builds trust.”
How to be a good listener in the workplace
His colleague Shelley Darcy adds that relating to someone and showing good listening skills in the workplace isn’t complicated: just let them talk, and when they’re done respond by summarizing what you gathered was important to them.
“Sometimes that’s really eye opening for people; you’re helping them gain insight into their own internal stuff, to help them understand more about themselves,” Darcy explains. “It’s just a huge trust and relationship builder, to be able to demonstrate you understand what somebody really cares about.”
Examples of active listening in the workplace
The importance of good listening proves to be especially valuable, for those who deal with external customers and clients.
“When we work with people who are really customer facing and a customer comes in and they’re mad about this or they’re frustrated about some experience they had, if you can listen to what they’re saying there’s something underneath that. Why are they upset?” says Darcy. “It’s probably something around being disappointed, and something that they were excited about.
“Whatever that is, if you can get to that place, you’ve got a relationship built almost instantaneously.”
Kristen Novak is the founder of WILD Public Relations, and oversees a team with clients in the tourism, lifestyle and retail spaces. She says that if someone is confiding in you, one of the most important things you can do to show you’re being a good listener is to ditch the distractions.
“Put away phones, computers, etcetera, and give the person your undivided attention. Our attention spans are so short these days that we’re always looking for something to fill our time, even when in the midst of conversation.”
Why is active listening important?
Novak adds that it’s easy to miss important elements of what someone is telling you if you aren’t fully engaged, which could have major consequences.
“For employees, it’s so important for them to feel heard. If you aren’t showing them that level of respect, why should they show it to you? The same thing goes for clients. And with clients there is another layer in that their business is at stake, particularly in the PR world.
“If we are missing something a client is telling us, when we go to communicate with their stakeholders, we could be giving out inaccurate information.”
Darcy says a lack of attentive listening is a common complaint they hear among the groups they work with.
“You have to be present with each other on an improv stage or it doesn’t work, and in life that’s hard to do. People are multitasking, or someone’s on their phone or texting while you’re having a conversation and just trying to do too many things at once.
“Be in that moment with the people you’re with.”