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Learning this simple skill will improve your relationships in the workplace

improve workplace relationships

Have you ever had a conversation with a colleague or friend, and instead of listening to the words they’re saying, you find yourself thinking about what you’re going to say next? 

I’m definitely guilty of this. 

This is pretty problematic, though, because it leads to so many issues, such as miscommunication, misunderstanding, and loss of time and energy. Even worse, this can have a negative impact on the relationship, leaving the other person not feeling heard or seen when they’re sharing something important. 

So today, I want to teach you a simple and powerful skill that will significantly boost your success and improve your workplace relationships: Active Listening. 

Active listening happens when you’re fully present and aware of what’s being said. You stop trying to multitask (thinking about what you’re going to say next), and instead, you actively focus on what the other person is saying. 

When you practice active listening, you:

  • Become a more effective communicator
  • Establish deeper and stronger relationships with your colleagues and stakeholders
  • Improve productivity for yourself and others 
  • Improve your negotiation skills 

Here are 6 simple steps you can take to practice active listening and improve your relationships in the workplace:

1. Stay present

To be an effective listener, you want to stay present in the moment. That means giving your full attention to the person in front of you. 

This can be difficult because so many of us struggle to stay present throughout the day. We’re always distracting ourselves with our text messages, email, Instagram, or something else. 

If you find yourself distracted during the conversation, bring your attention back to the present moment by tuning into your breath. Notice if your breath is deep or shallow. Then gently bring your awareness back to the person in front of you. 

2. Hold space

Holding space for someone means preparing yourself to be empathetic and to respond to the other person’s needs. Often what someone needs when they’re speaking is to be heard or seen. 

Give them your attention, like in step one. 

According to Dr. Rheeda Walker and the author of The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, “Holding space for someone can mean different things for different people, but, at a minimum, it means taking the initiative, without any prompting, to be empathic to another person’s situation or circumstance and making time for that individual to do whatever is needed for them, like voicing hurt, anger, or another strong emotion, and receiving whatever they need to communicate in a way that is supportive and nonjudgmental.” 

Think about what they’re sharing as if they’re taking you on a journey. And you’re there to follow along and to respond in a way that is supportive and caring. 

3. Maintain eye contact

Eye contact is incredibly powerful in fostering connection and deepening relationships. 

We pick up so much from eye contact, including the other person’s emotions, energy, and even character. 

So holding eye contact when someone is speaking is a way to let them know you’re with them, listening fully, and present. 

It also helps to establish trust. The other person can see and feel that you genuinely care. 

4. Refrain from giving advice 

When teaching clients active listening, I’ve found that what people struggle with the most is refraining from giving advice

Giving advice can make us feel useful, especially when we’re hearing someone share something challenging. Our immediate instinct is to solve the problem for them. 

For example, how often have you heard someone speak about a boss who micromanages or exhibits toxic behavior? If you’ve been in a similar situation, your immediate reaction may be to respond with strategies that worked for you. 

I understand the desire to do this. But the truth is it’s rarely helpful unless the other person is specifically asking for guidance and strategies. 

When we give advice, we’re sharing solutions that worked for us, but it’s unlikely it’s what the other person needs. Instead, they may be sharing to vent. Or they may need something else entirely. 

Advice can leave people feeling unheard and unseen. 

Instead of giving advice, proceed with the two steps below. 

5. Reflect back what you’ve heard

In active listening, you want to reflect back what you’re hearing the other person share. 

For example, if someone is sharing about their high-stress job and succeeding at their role, you may want to say something like, “It sounds like you’re feeling a lot of pressure to perform at your job right now.” 

This lets the other person know you’re listening, and it allows you, the listener, to reaffirm what they’re sharing. 

To reflect what you’re hearing, think about:

  • What feelings are you hearing in the other person?
  • What are you noticing they’re worried about? 
  • What are you noticing they’re excited about? 

Reflection is powerful because it validates the other person’s feelings and experiences. It will deepen your connection and leave the other person feeling heard and seen.

6. Ask: Is there anything I can do to support you? 

When we’re listening to someone share a challenge, we have a need to feel useful and to problem solve. Rather than offer solutions, you can ask, “Is there anything I can do to support you?”

This is where they’ll let you know if they’re seeking advice or suggestions. 

If they express the need for support, what you offer will be tailored to their needs. 

If they express that they don’t need anything at the moment, it lets the other person know you’re available and that you care about their struggle.

In conclusion: Practice Active Listening to Improve Workplace Relationships

Active listening is an incredibly powerful tool that takes practice and can significantly improve workplace relationships. Start small by observing how present your mind is or isn’t when someone is speaking. 

Then move into these other steps, like holding space, reflecting what you hear, and asking if the other person needs support. 

Improving your active listening skills will allow you to better navigate challenges in the workplace. You’ll forge deeper relationships, improve productivity and communicate more effectively. 

If you’re looking for more support on finding and doing work you love, download our free workbook, Attach to a Purpose, Not a Job to get clarity on what you want, faster!

Belma McCaffrey

Author Belma McCaffrey

More posts by Belma McCaffrey

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