Business NLP Blog

Active Listening

The process of active listening in the workplace

Workplace listening is characterized as a type of active listening which is utilized in a workplace environment, such as a professional workplace or an organizational workplace setting. Workplace listening is used at all levels of employment, from baseline employees to the top CEOs, and is considered to be an essential aspect of an effective and successful workplace. Workplace listening can be found in all levels of the workplace. Common examples which require the use of workplace listening are: management giving instructions about work to lower-level employees, employees giving information to their peers to pass along to one another, a secretary taking a phone call from an important customer, and a manager giving a report to a higher level employee. In all of these aforementioned examples, successful workplace listening is essential for the workplace task to be successfully completed. For example: Employees receiving instructions from management must listen well in order to understand their instructions, employees receiving information from fellow employees must listen well in order to pass along information—and so on.
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Workplace listening is considered to be a type of active listening. Active listening requires the listener to provide feedback to the communication they are receiving from the speaker. The most common techniques demonstrated during active listener are restating and paraphrasing the speaker's words in their own words, which confirms to both parties that the listener has heard the words and also ensures that the listener understands the context of those words as well. For example: If a manager is giving instructions to an employee, such as, “I need this file completed by this afternoon,” an employee who repeats—“Finished by this afternoon”—during the conversation is conducting active listening.

The process of active listening in the workplace can be somewhat complex. However, it can be broken down into four distinct actions: perception, interpretation, evaluation, and action. Perception is characterized by how the listener is perceiving communication they are receiving from the speaker. How a listener perceives communication can alter their understanding of that communication, as well as how effectively they remember that communication. Many factors can influence someone’s perception of communication. When someone is distracted, emotional, has a poor attention span, or is not focusing on the communication at hand, their perception of the communication can be skewed or otherwise poor. On the other hand, practicing active listening skills and paying focused attention to the communication and increase the quality of their perception.
Interpretation is characterized by how the listener interprets communication they receive from a speaker. Generally speaking, workplace listening interpretation is related to how the listener explains the words of the speaker to themselves. This can include a general explanation, such as “what” is beings said, but it can also include ulterior interpretations such as personal grudges or other emotional issues which may factor into how someone interprets communication. For example: When an employee is told by their manager, whom they have a negative history with, that they need to increase production in a certain area of sales, the employee may psychologically interpreted this communication as threatening—“You need to increase sales in this area, or else…” However, not all interpretation involves emotions or other negative psychological Reponses. Most interpretation simply falls into the category of explanations. For example, when an employee is told by their manager to have a report done by Monday, the communication is interpreted as “I must finish this report by Monday.”
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Evaluation is characterized by how the listener initially evaluates the communication they have receive. A listener, after perceiving and interpreting the communication, can then actively evaluate it. Generally speaking, communication is evaluated into categories of true and false, fact from opinion, and tries to sort out other influences such as bias or prejudice before deciding how they will respond to the communication. Although the process of evaluation sounds lengthy, it tends to happen within seconds or even automatically. Using the previous example, “This report must be done by Monday” will be evaluated as true—because the manager will set the due dates for reports—and not an opinion, because what the manager says in the office will hold up, should an employee stray from their instructions. Evaluation is essentially the pre-action to a listener’s reaction to communication.

The final step in the process of active listening in the workplace is called action. Action, also called responding, is how the listener verbally or nonverbally responds to the communication they are receiving. When a listener uses active listening skills, such as paraphrasing or rephrasing, they are taking an action. Typically, actions in the workplace involve confirming that they understand the communication, asking for clarification about the communication, or simply passing along the communication to someone else. The way that a listener ‘acts’ to communication can often determine how well or poorly they have received it. For example: If an employee is told that their report is due on Monday, responding with “All right, I’ll have it for you by Monday” is an action which confirms that the listener has correctly perceived, interpreted, evaluated and responded to the communication. However, if the employee responds by simply shrugging their shoulders or is unable to retain the information “due on Monday,” this would indicate that their workplace listening skills are poor an insufficient.
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It is essential for all employees to have high workplace listening skills. Even one person with poor listening skills can create havoc for other employees or, in some cases, even trouble for an entire company. To illustrate: Let’s say the owner of a company wants to speed up production by 5,000 units in time for the Black Friday shopping rush. They tell their head manager to inform five middle managers to inform their fifteen lower managers to inform all of their lower level employees of the production increase. If, somewhere along the way during this long line of communication, someone’s listening skills are poor, it could affect the company’s desire for additional products during peak shopping season.

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