Learning & Development

Active Listening: Benefits, Skills, Exercises

What if there was a skill you could instill in your employees to improve their productivity allowing them to get the most out of every new training session in the future? 

What if you could learn the same skill and become a more effective trainer?

That skill is active listening, and anyone who masters it will see exceptional results in their relationships, learn new things, and obtain the results they want.

What is active listening?

Active listening is a soft skill that helps people develop better communication. It is a process that you use to obtain information from a person or group. Active listening includes giving your full attention to the conversation, not interrupting, and taking adequate time to understand the speaker's message.

It is referred to as active listening because it involves taking active steps to ensure understanding. For instance:

  • Reducing or eliminating distractions
  • Moving closer to the speaker
  • Restating the speaker's words in your own words to verify understanding
  • Asking questions to get the speaker to share more details

Active listening vs passive listening

Passive listening is one-way communication in which the listener does not respond or ask questions and may or may not grasp the message sent by the speaker. Active listening includes responses that prove you comprehend what the other speaker is attempting to convey through questions or feedback.

Benefits of active listening in the workplace

Active listening is important in the workplace because it helps employees improve communication as a whole. The skills developed through active listening ensure your team is understanding, comprehending, solving problems, and working collaboratively while reducing workplace conflicts.

Here are the key benefits you will likely see if your team improves their active listening skills:

  • Better customer service
  • Elimination of needless conflict
  • Improved comprehension
  • Higher ROI on training
  • Stronger group collaboration
  • Respectful work environment
  • Increased selling performance

Let's dive into each benefit of active listening to see how it helps your organization on a daily basis.

1. Better customer service

Active listening skills help customer-based roles better understand their customers, show empathy, and offer effective solutions. As a result, customers go from feeling frustrated and unheard to being fully supported.

Customer service active listening is a sure-fire way to provide high-level service and support to customers.

2. Elimination of needless conflict

Employees can use active listening to completely eliminate needless conflict in the workplace. For the most part, fighting between team members stems from miscommunication. With proper understanding through listening and emotional intelligence, teams can work better together.

3. Improved comprehension

When employees know how to engage in instruction or on-the-job training, they will be better prepared to execute the required tasks without issue. Active listening ensures employees will understand and retain more of what they learned to increase productivity.

4. Higher ROI on training

Training programs require time and money spent to develop your workforce, when trainees don’t listen effectively during training, they’ll immediately forget what they’ve learned. That requires them to be trained multiple times, costing more money in the long run.

Employees that are properly trained and develop active listening skills will generate a higher ROI on future training. They’ll quickly retain and put the newly trained skills to action after the initial training session.

A modern learning platform like Continu allows instructors to create effective training courses that can develop active listening skills and measure employee training progress.

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5. Stronger group collaboration

Collaboration is an absolute must when solving a complex problem or achieving a challenging goal. Employees that developed active listening skills collaborate better with other team members to solve problems and complete tasks.

6. Respectful work environment

Active listening enables employees to better understand and communicate with other team members. This ensures they are listening to each other, which in turn creates a more respectful work environment.

7. Increased selling performance

Salespeople who practice active listening allow customers to explain to them their needs and pain points. Without interrupting or disconnecting from the conversation, a salesperson can accurately provide customers with information that can solve their problems. Customers feel heard and are more likely to purchase your product or service as a result.

If your team members can genuinely master active listening, they will have essential skills to become better employees overall.

Examples of active listening techniques and responses

Since active listening revolves around the listener's ability to portray their understanding of the conversation, the listener needs to convey they've listened to the speaker. This could be done through a variety of active listening responses which can be applied to any workplace situation such as: training comprehension, job interviews, presentations, workshops, and feedback.

Here are

a few general examples of active listening techniques and responses that demonstrate effective listening skills:

  • Paraphrasing - "So, you're proposing we completely overhaul our current product?"
  • Demonstrating concern - "I understand you're going through some challenges with this task, is there any way I can help?"
  • Building trust - "That is an unfortunate problem, please let me know how I can help you with this."
  • Simple verbal affirmation - "I appreciate you taking the time to bring this up to me."
  • Asking open-ended questions - "I see your point. What changes are you looking to see?"
  • Asking specific questions - "How exactly can we achieve this goal?"
  • Disclosing similar situations - "I also had to deal with this situation, here's how I handled the problem, hopefully, this can help."

All of these active listening examples show that you are invested in the conversation and comprehend what the speaker is talking about. Without active listening skills, employees typically respond with closed-ended questions, a lack of concern, or completely ignore the speaker.

Organizations that recognize employees with effective listening skills tend to consider them for promotions.

Active listening skills

Active listening is a general concept that can be difficult to measure with metrics or KPIs. However, there are active listening skills that can be noticed by managers, such as:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Professionalism
  • Proactivity
  • Accepting criticism
  • Confidence
  • Understanding
  • Self-awareness
  • Collaboration
  • Transparency

There are a lot more general active listening skills, but these tend to be noticeable in the workplace. Besides management, trainers can conduct a training needs assessment to see which listening skills can be developed further.

Active listening strategies for trainers

Corporate trainers should focus on active listening themselves. If they cannot display active listening themselves, how will learners be able to trust, communicate, or provide valuable feedback on the training they've received.

Trainers should apply active listening techniques while they lead training sessions and require trainees to demonstrate active listening while learning.

Here are seven active listening strategies to apply in your training sessions.

1. Listen with intention

Give the person speaking your full, undivided attention. Stay focused on what they are saying. Don't speak, and make it clear that you want the person to speak. Use positive and receptive cues to keep them talking. For example, nod, smile, and make eye contact. That shows interest and will signal the other person to keep expressing themselves. Don't allow other participants, technology, or intrusive thoughts to distract you from listening.

2. Avoid unresponsive body language

Avoid any non-verbal cues that show you are uninterested, not paying attention, or simply confused. Even if you find the question or comment to be frustrating or long-winded, manage your emotions. 

Your voice, gestures, and facial expressions should show that you want to hear the person's remarks. Open up your posture. Avoid closed body language and moving around too much. That indicates that you aren't focusing on the speaker.

3. Ask questions to show interest

Show the trainer or trainee that you're interested in what they have to say by asking questions. It would help if you also asked questions to clarify their meaning. For example, can you explain this further or can you give me some more details about this? Avoid centering Yourself by bringing up your own experiences. Instead, respond by validating their own.

4. Use verbal encouragers

Encouragers are gestures you use, sounds that you make, words that you repeat while the other person is speaking. Verbal encouragers are words like 'yes' or 'I understand' or 'tell me more.' 

You can also choose a meaningful word or phrase from the speaker's terms and repeat it. Use verbal encouragement to indicate that you are paying attention and encourage the other person to continue speaking to you.

5. Don't plan your response

Listen to what the person has to say before you begin planning your response. Don't plan your response to them while they are talking. You could miss something fundamental; you could even completely misunderstand what they're saying. Focus on listening for understanding instead. That may be the most vital thing you master as you learn about active listening and how to apply it.

6. Don't interrupt

Avoid interrupting at all costs, even if it is to agree with the speaker. Don't finish their sentences or interject enthusiastic responses. Instead, let them complete their thoughts. This shows that you are completely listening and understanding them, without the need for you to be the focal point.

7. Paraphrase at the end

When a trainee has finished delivering a comment or question, don't respond immediately. Instead, state what you believe they are communicating in your own words.

Use phrases like:

- "Let me repeat that back to you"

- "So it sounds like you mean."

End with a question to get confirmation. Try, "Is that right?" or "Do I have it correct?"

That way, if you've misunderstood, you don't leave the speaker feeling frustrated or as if you have put words in their mouth.

These active listening skills will make you a better instructor and trainer. Your participants will be more engaged in your activities, and discussions will be more robust as everyone feels as if they are genuinely being heard.

It's essential that you actively work to develop these skills and use them in the training room. It would help if you also worked on setting the exact expectations for the people you are training. Make it clear that these are the guidelines for your training sessions, and then model the skills.

Activities to develop active listening skills‍

Active listening is best taught through an engaged, active listening environment. While it's possible to provide training on the concepts of active listening, trainees need hands-on learning to apply and genuinely understand it.

Here are a few active listening exercises that can drive things home:

Not Listening Anymore

In this exercise, the group is divided in half. One group leaves the room. The other is encouraged to pick a topic to discuss that is important or interesting to them. The group that has left the room is encouraged to listen for a short time, then stop. They can play with their phones, look at the time, sigh loudly, or do anything else to indicate that they are disengaged.

When the groups get back together, they pair up to discuss the topics chosen by the first group. As the conversations continue, the listeners disengage. It's usually interesting for trainees to notice how quickly the listeners become frustrated and annoyed and stop communicating. That can lead to a good discussion of the impacts of listening on coworkers and customers.

Telephone

That is a twist on the classic game. You still encourage trainees to pass a message from one person to another. However, you also add in distractions such as music and encourage attendees to giggle and engage in side conversations with one another. 

Once the message has gone around, see who remembers it at all. See who reflects it accurately. That is useful in showing how allowing simple, meaningless distractions can negatively impact listening and understanding.

Listening to Sell

In this exercise, one person plays the role of an indecisive customer. Their job is to provide information on what they want for a vacation. However, they are to be somewhat unclear. They will list various details about what they want but not name the specific destination.

The other plays the role of the seller. They are to listen intently and show that they are using the steps of active listening. At the end of the exercise, they must summarize what the buyer is looking for in five sentences or fewer. Then, they can try to sell the customer to a vacation destination they believe will meet their needs.

The good thing about this exercise is that it can be easily adapted. Change the details of this activity to be relevant to your business and the products you offer.

Active listening is for everyone

Active listening is a vital part of working with others, it ensures you fully comprehend what the speaker is mentioning and respond in appropriate ways. Whether it's employees, trainers, or managers everyone in the organization needs to practice active listening.

Employees should use active listening to understand their coworkers' challenges or managers' instructions.

Managers can demonstrate active listening skills by paraphrasing an employee's question and then responding back in a way that makes them feel heard and understood.

respondingTrainers that showcase active listening ensure they are comprehending trainee questions, respond professionally, and provide feedback that can impact the whole group.

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