If you can listen to your staff, and staff can listen to one another, your working environment, and organisation as a whole, can benefit in a multitude of ways.
In fact, the benefits of good listening skills have a butterfly- effect on the whole business.
How, you may ask?
- If people listen to one another, misunderstandings will be decreased, reducing confusion and frustration in employees which will lower, or even diminish, their stress. Reducing stress will not only benefit the individual greatly but will make the whole environment more relaxed and help create a friendly atmosphere. Clients and customers who enter your work environment will notice this.
- When someone does not listen, the speaker either has to repeat themselves, which can cause frustration, or the listener simply does not do what is needed or does it incorrectly, wasting time and resources. If staff can listen to one another properly then work will be completed not only at a faster rate, as instructions are clear, but interoffice relationships will be stronger.
- By listening attentively, you also show that you care, which makes the talker feel important and needed within the organisation. This gives his/her work a sense of meaning and purpose which will not only boost self-esteem but build positive relationships between co-workers.
There are, however, a multitude of factors that can affect listening skills for the worse. Workshops for staff on listening can feel, and habitually are, extremely patronising. Many of us shudder at the thought of attending such a class. Team-building exercises are often a better setting to practice listening skills, and more often than not employees will be unaware that listening skills are even a part of the training.
But say your staff complete said workshops or team building exercises, and are still inattentive or dismissive of one another; what then? Well, there are many issues that make listening skills in the workplace harder to control. This is not, necessarily, a bad thing. Rather than controlling how people talk and listen to one another, you can use and harness these differences to support your team.
The differentiation between male and female listening skills, for instance, is such an example. Larry Barker and Kittie Watson highlight in their book ‘Listen Up’, that women and men utilise opposing listening styles. They argue that ‘men are more likely to be action-orientated listeners, which means they focus on listening to information pertinent to the task in hand. Action-Orientated listeners have little patience for speakers who ramble off topic or include unnecessary details.’ On the other hand, ‘women are more likely to be people-orientated listeners. They connect with the emotional message and undertones of a conversation and are more concerned with the occurrence of the conversation than with the pertinent information discussed’.
Woman also use a lot more fillers and acknowledgments such as ‘mmhmm’ and supportive words like ‘I see’ when in conversation. They do this to encourage the talker and to show them that they have acknowledged a comment and taken it on board. Men, on the other hand, are often more silent as listeners. When the need to talk arises it is often to ask a necessary question or to make a specific point. This can lead to women feeling that either the male talker is not listening, or that they are just not interested in what they have to say, which can cause annoyance and frustration.
It is important to note that neither form of listening has been proven to be better than the other, but both forms can either annoy or aid one another, depending on the approach. If such differences are an evident issue, you, and your staff, must acknowledge these differences, understand them, and approach one another in a different light. Knowledge is power, after all, and if your employees are taught to better their understanding of each other’s’ communication styles, your workforce may get along more than expected.
Another factor that may affect listening could be that, for the first time in a long time, four to five generations are simultaneously working alongside one another. Today, we not only employ the babies of the bunch, the ‘Gen Z’, ‘IGen’ or ‘Centennials’, which were born from 1996 upwards, but also the ‘Millennials’ (1977 to 1995), ‘Generation X’ (1965-1976), the ‘Baby Boomers’ (1946-1964) and finally the ‘Silents’ or ‘Traditionalists’ which cover those born before 1945. Five generations with differing life-skills, life-views, values, sayings, colloquialisms, fashions, tastes, abilities, sayings, political views, and attitudes towards work and life, all based on their different experiences of the world, working alongside one another…. what could go wrong?
Well the first issue is finding relatability. Generally, each generation has more in common with the generation either side of them. For instance, ‘Gen Z’ will relate more with the ‘Millennials’, whereas the ‘Millennials’ will relate more with ‘Gen Z’ and ‘Generation X’. ‘Generation X’ will relate more with the ‘Millennials’ and the ‘Baby Boomers’ and so on. But Place ‘Gen Z’ with the ‘Silents’, or the ‘Baby Boomers’ with the ‘Millennials’, and you could have issues in communication.
Even if you cannot relate to one another, between us we hold a wealth of ever-expanding knowledge and, regardless of gender or age, the key to working together is through listening. Even if you don’t want to listen, just listen anyway! The act of listening cannot hurt: it can only benefit working relations and the working environment. Who knows, in listening you may be surprised by what others have to say and maybe, just maybe, you may even find a common interest.
Although it may take time, once issues in communication are highlighted they can be resolved. What is hard, however, is spotting where the issues within your business stem from and whether or not they are down to problems in communication or not.
Here at Pansensic we are able to analyse vast quantities of qualitative data which can show us exactly where the issues in your business arise from and propose the best methods to fix said changes and create a happier, healthier organisation.