The Listening Part of Communication
Ideally, good internal communications is a two-way process. Employees feel valued when they believe their opinions matter and are asked for feedback. In addition to face-to-face communication discussed earlier, the following resources can help facilitate feedback:
- Employee survey - This can encompass routinely scheduled departmental surveys or those designed expressly to assess specific issues.
- Employee discussion/focus groups - Ideally for six to 12 employees at a time. Managers with the right people skills (listening, questioning, for example) can be trained to run these groups.
- Management discussion groups - Led by a facilitator, these sessions are designed specifically as management briefings and feedback sessions.
- Suggestion box – Allows employees to share information and concerns (anonymously if they choose).
What to do with feedback
Unless someone provides feedback that is inappropriate, feedback should always warrant a response. Taking action on employees’ feedback shows that you are an individual/department/entity that listens and values their opinions.
Helpful listening tips for important issues
Listening to another person is a skill that is often practiced with good intentions but poor results. Here are some tips for improving listening skills:
- Set the scene. This involves choosing the best time and place for listening.
- Allot enough time. Don't be rushed in the process; this signals to the other person that what he or she is talking about is unimportant to you.
- Select comfortable "turf." Pick a location that is neutral to each person, such as a public place or outside. Try to avoid pressure points like the job site or office.
- Avoid interruptions. Offer your undivided attention. That means no phone calls or other distractions.
Passive listening skills
Body language has a big impact in face-to-face communications. Body language that shows the listener is interested includes:
- Good eye contact. Maintain eye contact as much as possible. Don't convey negative reactions by gazing off or day dreaming.
- Body positioning. A relaxed posture slightly leaning toward the other person is usually most effective. Don't fold your arms across the chest, as this is often perceived as a defensive or "closed" posture.
- Nodding and facial expressions. These have great impact on the person speaking. Strive for an expression that’s open and welcoming but doesn’t convey overt emotional cues, such as anger, boredom, excitement or frustration.
- Encouraging words. These may include openers ("Can you tell me about it?" "If you feel like talking, I'd like to hear about it.") and occasional verbal interludes that convey sustained interest (“Oh?” “Really?” “Ah, of course”).These are to let the person know you are listening without breaking the flow of conversation.
- Silence. Silence can be a powerful way of encouraging someone to talk. Avoid the temptation to fill moments of silence with your own voice. “Please continue” is a good phrase to encourage conversation.
Active listening skills
Active listening is the process of reflecting back what the other person said to check out your understanding.
Your feedback may focus on the facts, feelings or both. An active listening response might be: "You seem to be feeling (feeling word) about (situation)."
When you are actively listening, you reflect and summarize. Doing this provides reassurance to the speaker and ensures a common understanding of the issue(s).
You can use these tips in your everyday conversations. However, these suggestions need to be tailored to your own "style" so they are understood to be sincere.