As a leader, you are responsible for supporting and challenging your team, but how do you know if you are doing this effectively?

Workplace communications are a two-way street. As well as directing a team, leaders need to invite feedback so employees can express the support they need to work smarter/faster/better – that is, leaders need to listen!

Leaders who are good listeners demonstrate kindness by showing that they have their employees’ best interests at heart, and go on to foster trustworthy relationships and inspire loyalty.

In turn, employees feel valued, comfortable to voice ideas and opinions, and like they belong – key ingredients for creating productive, inclusive workplaces.

But listening goes beyond sitting quietly and concentrating on what people are saying. Listeners are also in tune with body language, facial expressions and moods so they are mindful of others’ stresses and tension points that could affect their performance.

This level of emotional intelligence takes a lot of self-awareness and practise, but you can start by honing your active listening skills.

What is active listening?

Active listening involves giving your complete focus to what someone ways – not just the literal meaning of their words, but what they’re really trying to say to you.

This may seem simple, but did you know the average person listens with only about 25% efficiency?

Here’s some tips on how you can up your percentage:

Pay attention: Give the person your undivided attention, look at them directly, take note of their body language, don’t be distracted by what’s around you and don’t start preparing answers or rebuttals in your head.

Show that you’re listening: Use your own body language, such as an open posture or nodding, to show that you’re engaged.

Don’t interrupt: Seems logical, but it’s amazing how many of us do it! Allow the person to finish before asking questions or jumping in with counter arguments.

Dismantle your biases: We all hold our own assumptions, judgements and biases that can distort what we hear. Try to dismantle these by reflecting on what you’ve heard and asking questions, for example, ask for the person to clarify a point or summarise what they’ve said to ensure you’ve understood.

Be respectful: The point of active listening is to encourage better understanding and gain new perspectives. You’ll do nothing to help that by attacking the person talking to you. Be honest in your response and assert your opinions respectfully.

How do I use active listening in the workplace?

Active listening should be a full-time job, but there are certain times in your professional life when you can really take full advantage of these skills to gain honest and insightful feedback from your colleagues – and that’s where the proactive bit comes in!

Don’t wait for someone to raise an issue with you. Leaders should be proactively and consistently listening to their employees. Here’s a few ways you can do just that:

Regular performance reviews: If you’ve focussed on creating a psychologically safe workplace, then your team members should feel like they can share their views and opinions without fear of being reprimanded. Ensure that the reviews are not too few and far, otherwise they might feel like their input isn’t valued. Regularity will also reduce any anxiety employees may feel about providing feedback so it just becomes another part of their role.

Team meetings: Some people may be more comfortable to speak up in a group setting if they feel they have the backing of their fellow colleagues – this makes team meetings a great supplement to regular one-on-ones.

Focus groups: Similar to team meetings, but these can be centred on a particular issue or used as an effective follow-up to an employee survey. Focus groups give you the opportunity to gather deeper insights or ask the question of how you can boost further engagement.

Employee surveys: While less physical listening is involved here, surveys are a great way of gathering quality feedback, especially if they’re anonymous. However, their frequency is important; having only one survey a year can leave employees feeling like they’re participating in a formality and like their insights will go unheard.

What do I do next?

The most effective way to show that you’ve listened is by doing something about what’s been said. Be transparent by sharing your findings and acknowledging what they tell you about your business.

Follow this up by taking action where possible, which could be simple changes, such as providing fans to keep offices cooler in the summer or more comfortable chairs in the break room, or more in-depth matters that requires a closer look at aspects of your company’s culture.

It’s fair to say that you won’t always have the resources to act on every piece of feedback – some of it may even be impractical – but you can still show you’ve listened by recognising the issue and showing how you’ve assessed it. And there’s no reason why you can’t take a moment to talk to an individual privately (if known) to explain how you’ve come to your decision to demonstrate that their time and opinions are respected.


Want to learn more top tips and practical tools for becoming an inclusive leader? Sign-up to our free webinar, ‘The future of learning, inclusion and leadership development’,  taking place on Thursday 25th March, 12.00 – 13.00. Book your place here.


Have you had a look at our other posts?

Communication is the key

Lead by example: Preventing toxic behaviour through effective leadership

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