When you hear the term Active Listening, you may think, "Well, I'm already good at that!" But do you really listen as well as you think you do? Many of us listen with the intent to respond and if that was your initial mental response, you may not be as great at active listening as you think you are. If you've come to that realization in this moment, fear not! Listening is an ever evolving skill in not only Caring Leadership, but in life, and none of us are 100% perfect at it. If you're struggling in the workplace with obstacles such as unclear communication in management, losing prospects, or conflicts between coworkers - active listening is not properly taking place. So let's take a deep dive on how active listening can improve your communication and corresponding results in 2023.
A Customer Experience Story
I had a past client who taught me a lot about active listening and what not to do throughout the process. One of those things is to assume that everything is going swimmingly, when in fact it could be derailing right before your very eyes. I found that out the hard way, but after I made the choice to actively listen in the right ways, I was not only able to save their business, but also get more of their business.
When I originally recognized that this particular client was pulling back, it seemed very out of the blue to me. They weren't responding to calls and they were reducing their spend with the company. But then finally something clicked that maybe there was more to the story that I wasn't aware of. After realizing the change in behavior and communication, I reached out to them to have a meeting. My goal going into this meeting was to really listen and dig deeper without trying to be right. In order to find out what was causing them to draw back with what seemed like zero warning, I had to make the effort to meet them where they were at. Come to find out, they were frustrated with the processes that were changing and we didn't include them in those changes which greatly affected their day to day operations. After actively listening to their concerns and tweaking things, I was able to come back to them with a solution. After, we began doing quarterly check-ins to make sure that all of their needs were being met and there were no miscommunication.
The Cycle of Active Listening
Sometimes situations in the workplace aren't all cupcakes and rainbows, but we hold the power to change the outlook of a negative situation into a positive one. Below are the steps I took to save this client and make them loyal customers. Let's walk through The Cycle of Active Listening:
Recognizing the Unsaid – These are unspoken things in your culture’s organization to recognize that your people or your clients aren’t telling their entire truth.
When my clients drew back and quit communicating, that was the unspoken sign I needed to know things weren't right.
Seeking to Understand – Leaning in to understand someone’s perspective and really hearing them without the intent to just respond.
I chose to meet with the client to hear their side of things before jumping to conclusions.
Decode – Taking time to reflect, investigate, and then ponder about the feedback you have been given and what to do about it.
It was important that I took the time to hear all sides of the story before moving forward with a solution.
Take Action – Acting upon what you’ve heard, so your people and your clients know their voices are powerful and that you will do something about the feedback that is given.
After reflecting, I worked on making necessary changes to help improve their overall experience and operations. This solution helped reassure my client that I heard and valued what they had to say.
Closing the Loop - Closing the loop means that you’ve acted on the feedback you have been given and then acknowledged what you plan to do or are already actively doing about it.
In my customer experience story, feedback was given during our meeting. Sometimes, many leaders, even myself, fall down on this step as it takes intentional effort. I acknowledged my client and let them know that I heard their feedback and advised what my game plan was to implement the changes we had discussed. We also talked about how we could better communicate consistently moving forward. This resulted in quarterly meetings to check in and be sure everyone was on the same page and satisfied with the way things were going so there was no longer that gap of miscommunication. I presented the end result and thanked them for their feedback. Therefore, closing the loop.
Heading into a new year is commonly a trying time for a lot of us. We start to think about what we have or haven't accomplished in the current year and begin to write out resolutions we want to achieve in the upcoming year. If you've been struggling with your active listening or caring leadership skills, know that these always call for continuous improvement. None of us are perfect, nor should we strive to be. But establishing a commitment to providing yourself with avenues of continual growth and evolving as times change, will give you that push you need to have a successful new year. It's also a great time to reflect on your personal and professional life and think about how active listening can help you in 2023.