Written by Anna Boon

How can listening improve performance?

9th April, 2024   •  

Think of a time when you weren’t listened to. How did it make you feel?

It’s likely the emotion that comes to mind is negative. When we’re not properly listened to, it can leave us feeling undervalued, despondent, frustrated, unmotivated, disengaged or even burnt out. At work, feeling any of these things can stop us from performing to our full potential.

Whilst 96% of people believe themselves to be good listeners, only 17% say they are being heard ‘fairly or equally’ at work, and almost half have left a job because they didn’t feel listened to. 

We can see that, even though listening is something we have done since we were born, there is clearly more to it than we might think.

What stops us from really listening? 

There are a number of factors that get in the way of us actually hearing what someone is really saying:

  • Interrupting: jumping in before the person has finished speaking. Even if they pause, they might just be collecting their thoughts or thinking how best to phrase an idea.
  • Saying “no”, “but”, or “however”: this has a combative effect on the person speaking, which is likely to deter them from being completely open with you.
  • Being distracted: it’s really easy to nod along and say, ‘mmm’, whilst actually thinking about something else, both in person and virtually. They’ll soon figure it out though!
  • Jumping straight into problem solving mode: i.e. giving a solution as your first response. Sometimes people aren’t looking for a solution. They simply want to be heard. 
  • Judging/showing opinions: if someone can see on your face that they’re being judged, they’re not likely to continue speaking.
  • Confirmation bias: this is where we hear what we want to hear, to confirm our opinions. This leads to us blocking out the rest.
  • Bringing it back to you: speaking about your own experience off the back of someone sharing theirs.
  • Formulating your answer: Steven Covey says:Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ How often do we start thinking about what we’re going to say in response, long before the person has finished speaking? 

All of these ‘blocks’ leave a person feeling like they’ve not really been heard. So what can we do to combat this? 

How to really listen:

  1. Ask open questions: These are questions that allow a person to answer with a whole sentence, for example, questions that start with ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’. If we ask a closed question – one that can be answered with yes or no – it can hinder the opportunity for them to talk. You can also ask expanding questions throughout, such as, ‘and what else?’ to encourage the person to say more. 
  2. Leave silence: When we leave space for someone to talk, even when we think someone has come to the end of their sentence, they are likely to say more. This is often when we hear what is really going on.
  3. Encourage/empathise: We can do this through our body language. Nodding, leading forward and keeping our posture open, shows we’re interested and open to receiving what they’re saying. Phrases such as, ‘it sounds like’ help the person speaking feel understood.
  4. Repeat back: When we paraphrase and repeat back what someone has said, it helps them feel understood. We can also use their own language to show that we really listened.
  5. Check understanding: It can be powerful to check that we’ve really understood. When we’re sure they’ve properly finished, we can summarise back and give them the opportunity to correct any details we’ve misinterpreted. 

Employee satisfaction has been shown to increase by 30% after managers go through training in active listening. Productivity and collaboration increase by up to 25%, and sales performance by 8%. 

In summary:

Listening to our team members can make a huge difference to how they feel and consequently, how they perform. To improve your listening skills:

  1. Identify which of the blockers listed above apply to you. 
  2. List up to 3 of the ‘How to really listen’ strategies you will start to implement to combat your blockers
  3. Ask for feedback on your listening skills

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about how to actively listen to improve engagement and performance in your team.