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Active Listening in the Workplace

Active listening is a life skill learned over time through self-awareness, mindfulness and attention to detail. Apply active listening in the workplace to help improve working relationships, understand tasks and grow both professionally and personally.

In the workplace, communication among coworkers is essential to productivity. If your supervisor is explaining a new workflow process, you need to actively listen to learn how to perform the process. Active listening requires you to paraphrase what you hear by expressing the same message in different words, and often in a much shorter form. Responding to your supervisor with "Let's see if I'm clear about this," "So it sounds to me as if…" or "Is that it?" along with a summary of what you heard will ensure and confirm an understanding for you and your supervisor.

Differences between active listeners and passive listeners

  • Passive listeners are like tape recorders — they record the words and miss the intent or underlying reason for the information. If the speaker is providing a clear message, listeners will probably hear most of what is said. Passive listeners are often distracted, looking at a cell phone or going over a to-do list in their head, an activity which pulls focus from the speaker.
  • Active listeners engage with the speaker through nonverbal cues such as eye contact and restate or paraphrase what they heard back to the speaker to confirm their understanding of the information. The speaker acknowledges it and listener repeats the cycle as new information is introduced.

Benefits of active listening

  • Reduce misunderstandings. When you paraphrase what the speaker has just said, you are confirming that you understood the message, eliminating the possibility of mix-ups or misunderstandings.
  • Increase productivity. By engaging in active listening, you are more likely to retain information and understand the nature of the request, situation or task, which may allow you to complete assignments accurately the first time.
  • Build relationships. Active listening can help establish trust, rapport and effective communication among coworkers.

Practice active listening

Follow these simple steps to practice active listening and communicate more effectively.

  • Pay attention by making eye contact and giving the speaker your full attention. Avoid the distraction of thinking about what you will say next.
  • Use body language to show you are listening. The speaker is likely reading your body language, just as you should be reading theirs. Make sure your posture is open and inviting. Use facial expressions and nod occasionally.
  • Seek to understand what the speaker is saying by reflecting on the information. Paraphrase what you've heard and ask questions to clarify any points you may not fully understand. Remember if you have a question, someone else in the group may as well, so speak up.
  • Don't interrupt the speaker; hold any questions you have until they have finished each point.
  • Don't try to take perfect notes. Write down keywords or phrases and underline where you have questions or need clarification. Take a moment later to wrap up notes and fill in more details you remember from what the speaker said.
  • Respond appropriately. Be honest, but state your own opinions respectfully, without attacking the speaker.

Active listening is a learned skill and, when used in the workplace, can be beneficial in building professional relationships. Become an active listener by paying attention, showing your understanding and responding appropriately.

To learn more about workplace etiquette, visit the Managing Challenges section of the Employment Readiness lifecycle stage of MySECO. For more information about transferable skills, visit the Transferable Skills section. You can also call Military OneSource to speak with a SECO career coach at 800-342-9647 or use the Live Chat feature on MySECO for additional guidance.

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