Good managers talk but great managers listen

African American female counselor demonstrating empathy during a breakthrough session with a client, highlighting the importance of mental health support and therapeutic communication

In the intricate world of management, promoting individuals for technical abilities often overlooks the crucial requirement for interpersonal skills. This can leave many managers unprepared to handle the challenges of leading diverse teams, highlighting the importance of active listening as a frequently overlooked yet essential soft skill.

Lost in Translation:  managers without listening know-how

The main problem occurs when managers are promoted to leadership roles without sufficient training in active listening. This lack of skill not only hinders their ability to understand and connect with team members but also affects the overall unity and efficiency of the team.  They are told they will learn on the job, but at whose expense, I ask?

Time Crunch or Just Excuses:  the listening dilemma

One commonly cited reason for the disregard of active listening is the perceived lack of time. Managers often say that they don’t have the luxury to engage in prolonged listening conversations. However, reframing this perspective reveals that investing time in listening is not just a discretionary luxury but a strategic necessity for fostering a healthy and productive workplace culture.

Active Listening: More than just another buzzword

Digging deeper, active listening is key to shaping a workplace culture that values authenticity and inclusivity. It goes beyond just a communication skill; it becomes a vital aspect of building an environment where individuals feel recognised, accepted, and comfortable expressing their true selves.

Meet Mary:  Platitudes and loneliness

Mary, an experienced lawyer, is facing a personal crisis at home. Dealing with both a strained relationship with her husband and the recent loss of her mother, Mary is grappling with intense emotional turmoil.

Her husband, uncertain about how to support her through the grief, distances himself, intensifying Mary’s feelings of isolation. This emotional gap extends to her workplace, where colleagues, unsure of how to broach the sensitive topic, inadvertently contribute to an overall lack of communication around her.

This resulting emptiness leaves Mary feeling profoundly lonely, capturing emotions of sorrow, isolation, and deep grief. Despite the availability of the company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Mary hesitates to seek support, concerned about opening up to professional counsellors about her vulnerabilities.

Her manager offers cliches to her ‘it could be worse!’  Cliches, clichés, cliches – why do we resort to using them? That’s simple, we use them when we are uncertain about what else to say, often filling spaces with these overused expressions. 

Shh… Silence Speaks Volumes:  And speaking of filling spaces, how good are you at keeping silent?   John, a member of your marketing team, recently lost his job. While you’re skilled at offering ‘reassurances’ like ‘everything happens for a reason,’ ..  ‘you’ll get a better job’…there’s a chance to improve by actively listening and offering real support. It’s okay to admit if you’re unsure of what to say, rather than relying on clichés. Being present and acknowledging the difficulty of the situation can be more meaningful.

Recognising the power of silence in communication, the message emphasises that effective listening isn’t just about using words. Allowing moments of silence provides individuals the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings at their own pace, building an empathic connection with you.

Building a Listening Culture:  Creating a culture of listening goes beyond just talking about it. It means embedding values like caring, empathy, and understanding into the core of the company. This turns these values from abstract ideas into practical aspects of the organisational ethos.

ROI of Listening: Loyalty, Commitment, and Corporate Reputation: A workplace that values listening not only builds loyalty and commitment among employees but also enhances the company’s reputation as a preferred employer, contributing to staff retention and overall team dedication.

It’s a Win-Win! Active listening is not just a moral duty but a strategic investment in the success of both the team and the organisation. Encouraging a culture that values and practices active listening turns the workplace into a fertile ground for innovation, collaboration, and sustained growth. 

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About the author

Carole Spiers’ FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE credibility is rooted in 25 years success as CEO of a leading UK Stress Management Consultancy, working with equal success both in the UK and the Gulf.  She is a well-respected authority on building resilience and communication skills, a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and author of ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ 

Carole is also Chair of the International Stress Management AssociationUK, and is regularly called upon by the national press and media for comment. She is also founder of International Stress Awareness Week.   As a professional speaker, Carole is frequently invited to address international audiences on how to reduce stress and improve health and wellbeing.

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