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How to improve employee engagement by developing listening skills

Employee engagement has become a critical aspect of organisational performance, success and employee satisfaction. 

Employees are seeking more than just a job. They want a deeper connection and purpose in their roles, as well as a sense of belonging and value. This is especially important in today’s workplaces, where the pandemic, economic challenges, and remote work have all shifted workplace dynamics.

Recent data shows that just under 90% of UK workers are disengaged, and the "Great Resignation" continues to trend. Businesses that want to deepen their employee experience and engagement need to act creatively to address these challenges and reverse the trend of dissatisfaction. 

Listening is one of the key skills that can help employers create a positive employee experience

The potential of listening skills often remains untapped, despite the fact that most of us would be familiar with the concept of active listening. Businesses should reflect on the extent to which they prioritise developing listening skills in their business – one of the key skills to enhance employee engagement. 

Arming your managers and leaders with refined listening skills can create positive experiences within their teams to nurture engagement, and also develop their leadership skills at the same time. 

The impact of listening on employee engagement

In a landscape where employees have heightened expectations, the role of management becomes even more crucial in inspiring and fostering this engagement. Research by the CIPD reinforces the connection between effective listening and engaged employees. Those who perceive their managers as good listeners are not only more engaged in their work, but they also have a positive attitude towards their job. 

In this article, we'll explore how developing listening skills using the Skills Builder Universal Framework can support employee engagement, tapping into the activities and steps involved in building this essential business skill explicitly.

Developing listening skills for employee engagement

Though few would disagree that listening is an important leadership skill, when asked to define how they might go about getting better at it, they might not necessarily know where to start. 

Beyond just hearing words, managers can improve their listening skills step by step. They might be first time managers who are demonstrating effective listening through body language and open questions, or possess more advanced critical listening skills – discerning perspectives, recognising biases, evaluating ideas, and maintaining objectivity. 

For managers to be able to make a real impact on employee engagement, reflecting on their listening skills and honestly assessing them is an important step in developing this crucial management skill. 

There are specific areas of developing listening skills that can help ensure you are recognising perspectives to make your team feel valued and included in your organisation. Read on for these takeaway strategies:

Go beyond showing you are listening by using open questions to extend the conversation

Open questions are a simple but powerful tool to encourage active listening. They are those that cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. For example, they start with ‘who’, 'what’, ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how’. 

Responses can still be short and factual, but they have the potential to be much broader. The value of open questions is that managers can demonstrate to the speaker that they have listened to what they have said so far, as well as giving the opportunity for the speaker to expand upon the topic they are sharing, driving deeper dialogue and engagement. 

Listening skills also support the development of coaching skills in leadership. Managers can learn to be effective sounding boards by asking well-considered, open questions to enable the individual being coached to reach an answer or possible solution for themselves, driving a sense of purpose and autonomy. 

Listening for different perspectives

Workplaces consist of diverse individuals with diverse information, insights, lived experience, values, cultural norms and underpinning assumptions. These factors contribute to a wide range of opinions and perspectives that can impact work-related topics. The sense that an individual is being really listened to can enhance their sense of belonging and feeling of value.  

Managers should actively compare perspectives of their team and assess the key points your team members are communicating. As you listen, considering the speaker's attitude and the potential underlying reasons for their perspective is a good starting point. Keep these considerations at the forefront while remaining conscious and objective. You can use internal questioning to help evolve your listening skills, thinking about questions like: 

  • What other reasons might they hold this perspective?
  • What skills, experience or knowledge might they have?
  • What are their interests – how will they personally win or lose depending on this decision?
  • How might their beliefs or values be part of their perspective? 

It’s important to note that making assumptions about the specifics of underlying assumptions relies on imperfect information – and this can be challenging. But understanding different perspectives and viewpoints is key to effective listening. 

Using clarifying statements and rephrasing

By clarifying your understanding, you will be able to avoid miscommunication, and lessen the potential of disagreements, frustration, or even conflict. This technique will also help to build trust with your employees, improving engagement in the team. 

When done well, this aspect of listening will help to ensure:

  • Anything that wasn’t clear or that you misheard when listening can be addressed quickly, reducing feelings of ambiguity or doubt between you and the team member
  • The speaker will have greater confidence that you are understanding what they are sharing, which is important for developing two-way engagement
  • The processing of summarising or rephrasing will help you to store the information, making it more likely that you will remember it in the future.

A simple way to do this is to rephrase what is said in your own words, going beyond just summarising. It shows that you’ve really understood what the other person has explained, rather than just taken in the information. 

Investing in listening skills

Showing that you value perspectives by actively considering and listening to them is more than a one to one meeting, it can have a sharp effect on employee engagement and overall improved enjoyment of work.

Developing improved listening skills at the advanced level requires both opportunities and commitment. Providing your management teams with the right framework and structures to build this skill could start with awareness-raising. By building the case for listening, and building skills into your organisation's staff development, you can get a head start. 

Book a free consultation with our Employers Team to learn how you can build these skills into your business. 

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