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The Silent Skill: Personal development and active listening

In the pursuit of personal development, there are many ways we can self-improve by looking at our skills. One such skill, often overlooked but undeniably vital, is the art of listening. Listening skills, when practised with intention and awareness, offer benefits to personal growth. The Universal Framework is designed to help you measure and build your essential skills, and for individuals looking to improve their listening skills, provides practical steps on how to listen.

How to improve listening skills using the Universal Framework

The Universal Framework provides a comprehensive roadmap for personal development through essential skills, including listening skills. Here are some important to learn how to listen in the workplace:

Effective communication

Listening actively and discerningly allows us to better understand others, especially in a professional setting. For example, during team meetings or negotiations, being aware of how a speaker is influencing us through their tone and language enables us to engage in more effective communication. 

This heightened awareness not only fosters empathy, enabling us to connect more deeply with colleagues and clients, but it also enhances our ability to convey our thoughts and feelings coherently. In a business context, this can lead to more productive discussions, improved collaboration, and ultimately better outcomes for all involved.

Building relationships

Strong relationships are fundamental to personal development. When we are attentive to a speaker's tone and language, we are better equipped to establish meaningful connections with others. We can respond more empathetically and build trust, which forms the foundation of lasting relationships. For example, a line manager that wants to build relationships within a team and with their employees can encourage active listening in one-to-one conversations and team meetings, and build their listening skills themselves to grow as a leader.

How to listen by being aware of a speaker’s tone

One of the most powerful yet often overlooked aspects of listening is the impact of tone. When we engage in a conversation, we are not only processing the words spoken but also the emotional nuances conveyed through tone. Step 9 of the Listening Step of the Framework urges us to become conscious of how a speaker's tone influences our thoughts, emotions, and reactions.

Tone and emotional resonance

Tone is a vehicle for emotions. It can convey enthusiasm, frustration, empathy, or indifference. As active listeners, we should attune ourselves to these emotional cues. When we do this, we gain insight into the speaker's feelings, which enhances our understanding of their perspective. This, in turn, fosters empathy and better communication.

Imagine a colleague who is frustrated with a project. Their tone may be tense, and their words may reflect dissatisfaction. By being aware of their tone, we can respond with empathy and support, thus strengthening our interpersonal relationships. This heightened awareness not only benefits our relationships but also our own personal development. We become more emotionally intelligent and better equipped to navigate complex social and workplace situations.

Detecting manipulation

An awareness of tone helps us detect manipulation, especially in a workplace setting. For instance, in professional environments, some individuals may employ persuasive or manipulative tones to sway opinions or decisions. By recognising these tactics, we can make informed decisions rather than being unduly influenced. Being able to notice subtle manipulations is a crucial skill in personal development, helping us to make choices aligned with our values and career goals. It's a skill that not only enhances our professional competence but also fosters a healthier work environment where open and honest communication thrives.

How to listen by being aware of a speaker’s language

Language is another tool of influence. Words can shape perceptions, trigger emotions, and inspire action. We need to develop ways of being mindful of the language used by a speaker and how it impacts our thoughts and behaviour.

The power of words

Words can uplift, motivate, and inspire, or they can discourage, dishearten, and manipulate. When we pay attention to the language a speaker employs, we gain insights into their intentions and beliefs. This awareness allows us to critically evaluate the information presented and make informed decisions.

Consider a team leader who uses empowering language to inspire their team members. Their words can instil a sense of confidence and determination in the team. By recognising the positive impact of such language, we can harness it at work but also for our own personal development. We can seek out sources of inspiration and motivation that use language effectively to fuel our progress.

Identifying Bias

Language can also reveal biases and stereotypes. When we know how to listen for these linguistic cues, we can challenge and confront prejudiced or discriminatory beliefs. Crucial to personal development of listening skills, focusing here helps to foster open-mindedness and inclusivity.

Learning to listen how language influences us is essential for personal growth. For instance, in a professional setting, when we actively question and analyse the language used in reports, presentations, or discussions, we become more critical thinkers. This critical thinking, equips us to navigate the rapidly changing workplace..

Practical steps on how to improve your Listening Skills in the workplace

Consider applying some of the following practical steps in the workplace:

1. Practise Active Listening: Be fully present when someone is speaking. Avoid interrupting and listen attentively to what they are saying. With colleagues and external stakeholders, this helps building relationships by building trust and confidence.

2. Ask Clarifying Questions: Seek clarification when necessary to ensure you fully understand the speaker's message. If working with clients, this can help you make sure you fully understand their challenges and expectations, and how you can work together to meet those.

3. Reflect on Your Responses: After a conversation, take time to reflect on your emotional reactions and how the speaker's tone and language influenced your response. For example, if a customer was sharing that they were dissatisfied with a product or service and they were speaking loudly, we might interpret this as aggressive. Look to find support from a colleague or manager.

4. Seek Feedback: Encourage colleagues to provide feedback on your listening skills. Constructive criticism from your team and people you work with can help you refine this essential skill and improve other skills like teamwork or leadership.

You can use these practical steps as valuable tactics to discuss in a development meeting with your line manager or when thinking about what you want to achieve in your own personal development plan. 

If you're eager to further develop these skills or delve deeper into the Universal Framework in a workplace context, you can explore each skill and step by navigating the Universal Framework.