Skip to main content
  1. Learn center
  2. Collaboration
  3. Posts
  4. Active listening: A skill that can transform your career

Active listening: A skill that can transform your career

Brandi Gratis

Brandi Gratis

September 15, 2023

While you need many skills to do your job, active listening may be some of the most crucial for determining the long-term success of your career.

In our jobs, we listen to others for three main reasons:

  • to obtain information,
  • to understand, and
  • to learn.

It’s obvious then why someone who struggles with listening will likely struggle in their career: Employees who have trouble obtaining accurate information, understanding feedback, and learning new concepts don’t make great teammates.

Suddenly, active listening seems pretty important, right?

Here’s our guide to active listening.

What is active listening?

Active listening is a communication technique often used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrates, understands, responds, as well as remembers what is said.

It’s a conscious effort to understand not only the words other people say but, more importantly, the meaning behind what they’re saying.

The power of active listening in the workplace

Active listening is not confined to one specific setting; it’s a universal skill that holds immense value in various aspects of life. However, when we focus on the workplace, its significance becomes even more pronounced. In a professional setting, active listening fosters an environment of trust and collaboration. It allows you to gather accurate information, understand feedback, and acquire new knowledge effectively. Moreover, it aids in conflict resolution, making it an indispensable skill for remote work teams.

Benefits of active listening

Mastering active listening can be a game-changer for your career. Let’s delve deeper into the numerous benefits it offers in a professional context:

1. Improved Communication

Effective communication is the backbone of any successful organization. When you actively listen, you not only grasp the words being spoken but also the emotions, intentions, and concerns behind them. This deeper understanding enables you to respond thoughtfully, leading to clearer and more productive conversations.

2. Enhanced Problem Solving

In the workplace, challenges and conflicts are inevitable. Active listening plays a vital role in resolving these issues. By actively engaging with colleagues and considering their viewpoints, you can identify creative solutions and build consensus more effectively.

3. Strengthened Relationships

Building strong professional relationships is essential for career growth. When you actively listen to your peers and superiors, you demonstrate respect and empathy. This fosters trust and goodwill, paving the way for successful collaborations and career advancement.

4. Increased Productivity

Miscommunications and misunderstandings can lead to wasted time and effort. Active listening minimizes the chances of such breakdowns in communication. When everyone in a team listens actively, tasks are completed more efficiently, and projects move forward smoothly.

5. Conflict Resolution

Conflicts can arise in any workplace, but active listening can be a powerful tool for resolving them. When individuals feel heard and understood, tensions can be defused, and compromise becomes more achievable.

6. Continuous Learning

The business landscape is constantly evolving, and professionals need to adapt to stay relevant. Active listening not only helps you acquire new knowledge and skills from others but also demonstrates your commitment to lifelong learning—a quality highly valued by employers.

7. Leadership Development

Effective leaders are exceptional listeners. By mastering active listening, you not only become a better team player but also enhance your leadership potential. Listening to your team’s concerns and feedback can make you a more empathetic and influential leader.

3 signs you’re NOT actively listening

1. You’re forming counterarguments in your head as others speak.

While you may feel compelled to correct or counter someone speaking, the second you start formulating arguments in your head, you’ve stopped giving your full attention to what’s in front of you. You’re half-focused on yourself and what you’re going to say next.

2. You’re allowing distractions.

Distractions can come in many forms:

  • Notifications on your phone or computer
  • Other people interrupt your conversation
  • Thinking about unrelated tasks you need to get done later in the day

What do all of these distractions have in common? As they happen, you’re not able to be fully present. If you’re focused on anything other than what the person in front of you is saying, you’re not actively listening.

3. You’ve already decided how you feel before they’ve finished talking.

We often jump to conclusions too quickly. The problem is when you make up your mind about what someone is saying before they finish saying it, you’re not listening anymore; you’re just waiting for them to be done.

Active listening is the antidote to all three of these problems.

How to actively listen

1. Give your undivided attention

Next time you need to engage in a meaningful work conversation with someone:

  • Put your phone away where it can’t be seen or heard.
  • Close your computer.
  • Reserve a conference room, or find a quiet space where no one can interrupt you.

Create a space conducive to focusing all your attention on the other person.

2. Participate in listening

“Active listening” is called “active” for a reason: it is not a passive process.

  • It takes more than eye contact. Encourage them to continue using brief verbal acknowledgments like “um-hm,” “Oh?” “I understand,” “And then what?” Display warm facial expressions, and nod appropriately to what they’re saying.
  • Demonstrate open body language. Don’t cross your arms, lean back in your chair, or shift away from the person speaking.
  • Ask clarifying questions. But save any opinions or contradictions until the end.
  • Defer judgment. Hold off on forming counter-arguments to what they’ve said until after they’ve finished speaking.
  • Note their body language. We all send non-verbal queues—Do they seem nervous? Frustrated? Defensive?

3. Summarize what you’re hearing

Many times we think we understand what someone’s saying, and we are wrong. The best way to nip misunderstanding in the bud is to summarize what you believe you’ve heard.

Paraphrase their thoughts with phrases like, “What I’m hearing is,” or “I sense that what you’re feeling is,” etc.

We all come with our own brand of filters, assumptions, judgments, and biases that distort how we hear what others say. This doesn’t make us bad people; it just means we need to be sure we’re not projecting those filters onto others when we listen to them.

4. Respond thoughtfully and respectfully

Once you’ve carefully listened and summarized the information back to the person to verify that what you’re understanding is accurate, then you can formulate a response.

Remember, active listening is a demonstration of respect that requires emotional maturity. Personal attacks, put-downs, or mockery are never acceptable responses to another person sharing their thoughts with you, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.

If you’d like to share thoughts that contradict what the other person has just said, make your points in a respectful, calm, organized fashion.

Tips for responding respectfully:

  • Validate the speaker’s feelings and acknowledge/repeat any good ideas or points the person did make.
  • Respond using “I” statements. Ex. “I see the problem this way…” and “I would like to see a solution that…” rather than “You should…”
  • Be straightforward. Provide your speaker with candid feedback.
  • Don’t ignore or neglect to respond to points your speaker has clearly stated are important to them.
  • Present any counter-arguments in a way that demonstrates their value to the project rather than how they prove the other person wrong.
  • Avoid sarcasm and patronizing statements.

Positive communication can help you deliver your message without offending.

Transform your career with active listening

By embracing active listening in the workplace, especially within remote teams, you empower yourself to navigate challenges, build meaningful connections, and foster a culture of collaboration. Recognize the importance of this skill, break down barriers, and engage in activities that promote effective communication.

The role of remote work software

In the era of remote work, the right communication tools play a crucial role in facilitating active listening. Remote work software, such as video conferencing platforms and collaboration tools like Backlog, provide the means to connect and engage effectively. By utilizing these tools, you can bridge geographical gaps and ensure that active listening remains at the core of your remote team’s success.

Remember, treating others as they want to be treated is the key to unlocking your full potential in the professional world. As you continue to practice active listening with each of your coworkers, you’ll find that your communication skills become a powerful asset, propelling your career to new heights.

This post was originally published on March 24, 2017, and updated most recently on September 15, 2023.



Subscribe to our newsletter

Learn with Nulab to bring your best ideas to life