Communication is a vital part of improving company culture and fostering employee engagement, but often when executives are told to improve their communication, they resort to more emails, presentations or memos. However, communication goes beyond that. The most impactful form of communication is through listening.

Though often overlooked, listening is a powerful leadership and coaching tool that has the ability to create an environment of safety when done well. Many studies over the years have estimated that we spend between a third to even half of our time listening, yet we remember only about half of what we hear immediately after someone has finished talking.

When information is shared but not acted upon, it can result in negative consequences as employees feel unheard. In a survey by Gallup, only 3 in 10 employees strongly agreed that their opinions seemed to count at work, explaining the low levels of engagement found in many workplaces. On the contrary, when people feel their comments will be listened to and treated with respect, they are more likely to be open, engaged and committed to the overall success of the organisation.

Good leaders listen before they act, and the best leaders prioritize listening to their best people”- Gallup

Listening, however, is a challenging skill to master and is easier said than done. In order to improve, three dimensions must be considered. First is internal listening; centred on listening to your own thoughts and worries even whilst speaking to others. This focus on yourself and your priorities may prevent you from hearing what the other person is saying.

Focused Listening is the second dimension, and goes beyond internal listening. It entails a concerted attempt to focus on the other person, even if distractions may be present which prevent you from fully connecting with what is being said.

Finally comes the 360 (or Global) dimension of listening. This is where you listen not only to what the person is saying, but how they say it and even what they’re not saying. Distractions are eliminated, and not only are you able to listen actively, you are also able to acknowledge and enquire further on the information received.

A simple guide to developing 360 or global listening is through the adoption of the LACE model;

  • (L)Listen– Listen for verbal and non-verbal cues. Here you strive to pay attention to cues such as body posture, tone of voice, shifts in body movement. These subtle cues can give insight into what an employee finds exciting or boring, it can show resistance or engagement with certain ideas.
  • (A) Acknowledge– Acknowledge to show that you are listening. Focus on the speaker by maintaining eye contact and eliminating possible distractions. It is important to suspend judgment, control emotions and resist the urge to give immediate responses at this stage.
  • (C) Check– Check and clarify understanding through reflective inquiry of what you hear, notice and observe. This means not assuming what is being said, but instead checking periodically by summarising, paraphrasing and mirroring key points raised to confirm.
  • (E) Enquire– Enquire about more information from the client by asking questions. Listening should not be the end of the conversation, but instead the start. It should serve as an avenue to foster continued dialogue, or initiate an action plan.

In addition to two-way conversations and improved listening between managers and their team, growing organisations must scale up listening in order to transform the workplace into a ‘listening organisation’. Listening should go beyond one-on-one relationships, and instead be organisation-wide. This entails making structural, cultural, technological and policy changes, in addition to the changes taking place at the human resource level.

Even in a world of limitless, instantaneous and global connection, the most powerful mode of communication is though listening. People don’t just want to belong, they want to contribute. You can give your team the opportunity to do so by applying the steps discussed above. In the process of having more candid, mutually respectful conversations, your team will become more cohesive and able to work together more powerfully.

Are you keen to understand and develop your leadership style as your business grows? We’re looking for the final cohort of business leaders to join our Bamboo Club peer group, sharing challenges, expertise and insights. The Bamboo Club is open to businesses based in East Sussex and turning over more than £200,000.