Communicating well at work is a foundational skill that is often overlooked. Active listening is essential to being a good communicator. We feel that active listening is a priority when discussing safety matters.
Often, misunderstanding an issue can cause unnecessary conflict. Miscommunication at work can occur when there is poor team cohesion, assumptions, using the wrong channel/platform to communicate, or simply… failing to listen to each other.
In terms of safety, misunderstanding the problem may lead to injuries or even workplace fatalities. Feelings of being unsafe, unheard, disrespected or having conflict can also lead to work related psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.
This is where active listening can contribute to a better outcome. By ensuring the manager truly understands the problem, they can allocate the correct action, time and resources and potentially circumvent any workplace injuries that may occur without appropriate action.
How do I practice active listening?
As with any skill, active listening is something that requires practice. It requires a conscious decision to listen carefully and apply the techniques during the conversation. As a refresher on Active Listening, we have listed some tips below:
1. Face the speaker and make eye contact (when appropriate)
- Make comfortable eye contact, in consideration of any cultural or diversity factors.
- Ensure your posture is open (avoid crossing arms or rolling eyes – eek!!)
2. Observe non-verbal cues
- Pay attention to facial expressions and body language (sometimes what someone is saying may not match their non-verbal cues. For example, if someone says “but it’s all good” and has their arms crossed, teary eyes or their head turned away, maybe they are more upset than they are saying).
3. Don’t interrupt
- If you feel the urge to interrupt or add your comments in before the person is finished, stop! This can be interpreted as you not being bothered with what the other person wants to say, or that you are more important than them.
- Be at ease with a few seconds of silence here and there.
4. Listen without judging or jumping to conclusions
- Focus on listening and not how you are feeling as a result of the conversation. Bring your attention back to the person talking and dont assume you know what they will say next.
5. Don’t start planning what to say next
- It is not possible to fully listen and also prepare your next comments at the same time.
6. Show you’re listening
- Use non-verbal encouragers such as nodding, slightly smiling or showing concern, small noises “mm hmm” etc.
7. Don’t impose your solutions on others
- Many people prefer to come to their own conclusions. This theory forms the basis of work health and safety consultation. Employers should seek information from employees about how best to solve issues. This is the perfect time to apply that approach.
8. Stay focused
- If you are feeling yourself losing focus or drifting… try and repeat some of the person’s words/key points as they talk – in your head! Not out loud.. to help you feel engaged and remember the information.
9. Ask questions
- Always seek clarification on any points that you need more information on. Those questions may be direct (e.g. “can you tell me exactly where the oil keeps getting spilled on the workshop floor?”)
Some questions can be open, however, such as those aimed at seeking information about the person’s feelings (e.g. “thank you for sharing this with me, how are you feeling now?”)
10. Paraphrase and summarise.
- Simply repeat the key points of the conversation and ensure you have heard them correctly. The person will feel content that you have listened and understood.
- You can start this reflection by saying “just to confirm…” or “I hear you… you’ve said that…” or similar.
By using active listening techniques you not only hear the problem which gives you the ability to take appropriate action and empathise with the other person, you also foster a positive workplace culture by using respectful communication techniques.
Leadership in every sense of the word means undertaking behaviours and actions that you would want others to follow or do. Active listening is one discreet yet powerful tool you can use as a leader to demonstrate the way you want your team to engage and to make the workplace safer.
The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.