The art of active listening: how teams can turn chaos to dialogue

We believe that we’re good listeners, but we’re just listening, waiting – to interrupt. Does this make sense? We’re all so digitally apt now that we’ve lost the art of listening. Yes, listening is an art – it requires practice and commitment. A skill that you can master, a skill that most of us have lost and thoughtfully need to develop to thrive in relationships and at work.

With the increased level of collaboration in the modern workplace, communication is one of the highly valued soft skills. How many job responsibilities desire communication as one of their most essential soft skills? Yet, we only learn to ‘express verbally’ and not listen. Why is it relevant, particularly in our work associations?

Harvard Business Research supports that managers well with listening – are perceived as ‘people’ leaders, generate deeper trust, inspire higher job satisfaction, and increase their team’s creativity. Do you want to spark meaningful communication among team members? And turn toxic, chaotic conversations into thoughtful talks?

What is active listening?

In coaching, listening is perceived as a fundamental skill of a coach. As acknowledged in team coaching, listening is vital in all walks of life, particularly useful for those who work across disciplines, business units, cultures, and user groups. It enables you to identify more subtle meanings and negotiate differences between people.

And one of the most effective ways to learn to listen is active listening. One of the core coaching competencies of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), Active Listening is:

Ability to focus entirely on what the person is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the person’s desires, and to support self-expression.

Did you ever notice that when you’re talking with someone, you’re framing your response before they finish? That’s hearing in a half-baked way – you’re listening with less engagement.

Active listening involves unconditional acceptance and honest reflection. Imagine you’re exploring a person’s actual feelings and opinions while listening, and by doing so, you’re having a real conversation where the person feels respected, connected – because you listened.

Unlike more casual or open conversation, active listening ensures creating shared understanding. Active listening can be an incredible tool when you need to establish trust, understand other’s perspectives, and collaborate productively.

Leading with active listening

We often find ourselves listening meaningless-ly without even realizing it until the speaker pokes you to get your attention. This may result in conflict or misunderstanding, and can also lead to a loss of productivity in a work context.

Active listeningthe act of fully concentrating on what is being said, is the crucial aspect of building a solid foundation for effective communication at the workplace. In team coaching, active listening is the fundamental aspect to lead and continue essential conversations among team members. So, what holds back a team from active listening?

  • External barriers: Clamorous environment, distance between the speaker and listener, improper seating arrangements, abrupt interruptions, all lead to chaotic conversations.
  • Personal flaws: Mood swings, disinterests, talking too fast, unclear accents, language barrier, selective hearing, wandering thoughts, can negatively affect the listening.
  • Expectations and perceptions: Many times, presumptions and opinions become the biggest hurdles to connect with the speaker. Contemplating own experiences and beliefs over the speaker’s feelings drives to biased conversations.

Now, that we’ve reflected upon the barriers, let’s discover the essential abilities to develop active listening:

Pay attention

Building a genuine association between team members is a critical link to have meaningful conversations that most teams ignore. Be present – clear out your mind from all the distractions. Take your time to clear your mind before sitting down to talk – show your team member you actually care to listen. Be aware of the subtle changes in the tone of the speaker, the words they’re using to define their emotions – try to reciprocate with the same enthusiasm.

No judgments

It’s very challenging not to judge, especially when it’s someone whom you’re working with, or who you don’t know at all. Acknowledge that your team member is there to express something to you – may be to discuss their tasks, to-dos, or projects. Your coworker might not be there to take advice or answer from you – maybe it’s just to blow out the steam of work pressure.

Be more accepting and open-minded to what the other person has to say rather than inflicting your own interpretation of what’s being said. Respect the silence and resist the urge to fill those silent moments. Take a moment to reflect upon your response before letting it out.

Ask the right questions

How many of us use “But I thought…” when discussing in team meetings?

Asking the right, open-ended questions to your coworker gives scope to reflect upon their own thoughts. Instead of asking, “Are you working today?”, say “Tell me about your today’s to-dos”. Say your coworker is assigning you a task. Which question would you like to answer: “Why haven’t you completed this task?” or “What is holding you from completing this task?”

Active team communication is a loop. A team coach uses many tools and techniques, like paraphrasing, open-ended questions, recognize what’s said, what’s not said, and many other approaches that are oblivious to us.

Ready to be an active listener?

Support your people to be more active and productive with our team coaching training programs. Tailored and flexible, our team coaching programs are available in-house and online to help leaders build effective and high-performing teams.

Learn to engage your entire organization into active conversations with us.


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