Are You Practicing Active Listening at Work?

On NPR one afternoon I listened to a show called “On Being,” hosted by Krista Tippett. Her interview guest was Dave Isay, the founder and president of StoryCorps, a show that records conversations of everyday people and preserves them in the Library of Congress.

Are You Practicing Active Listening at Work?


StoryCorps likes to say it is listening to America. Isay has also written a book called Listening is an act of love. Naturally the subject of conversation was primarily around the act of listening. In response to one of Tippett’s questions, he said that despite what he does he can be a very bad listener. He said listening is hard and it takes work to learn it. That got me to thinking about how important listening is in our daily lives and how we generally go about doing a poor job of it.

Listening is a key HR and management skill

Given what we do in HR and management, I’m confident in saying that listening effectively is the most important skill an HR manager or a manager of any sort must have. When do we need to be listening?

  • When we interview
  • When we review
  • When we ask a question
  • When we investigate
  • When we have a conversation

There are thousands of articles written on listening skills. Active listening is one of the skills most often recommended.

Active listening generally includes nonverbal feedback to show you are paying attention. This nonverbal feedback includes:

  • Head nods
  • Eye contact
  • Posture
  • “Mirroring” the other person’s behavior
  • Not giving into distractions like looking at a watch, or paying attention to the sound of an email arriving is also key to effective active listening.

But are you really listening?

I admit that I have gone through the act of being an active listener without really listening and I bet many of you have too. An observer would probably think I am paying rapt attention, but in reality it is a sham. I have done it long enough to fake it. But I get bored, I am ready for the conversation to be over, for the interviewee to be gone or to have the other person just shut up. Sometimes it is because I want to say something that I consider to be more important.

According to the website SkillsYouNeed there are a number of things you can do that will help you actually be an active listener and keep you from faking it.  These include:

  • Asking questions about something said.
  • Remembering something said a few minutes in the past.
  • Reflecting on something that was said.
  • Asking for clarification on a point made.
  • Summarizing what the person has said and allowing the speaker to correct what you have said.

These cues will show the speaker that you have actually listened to what they said. You will be surprised how actually listening will improve communication.

Active listening and engaging in asking for clarification and more information may help you learn things new about your fellow employee. Who knows it may help you in your personal life as well. I am sure many of you could improve this with your spouse or significant other. Give it a try the the coming year 2016.


Photo credit.

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Mike Haberman

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, speaker, writer of HR Observations, and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc. After over 30 years in HR he got tired of the past and focuses here on the Future of HR. Connect with Mike.


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