Active listening is and will always be the key factor in improving most workplace conflicts between leadership and their teams. Without active listening, miscommunication increases, and from that result comes a decline in productivity and delegation. Eventually, these conflicts and miscommunications can lead to your people suffering from workplace burnout. Although burnout is common and happens to almost everyone at one point or another, there are more positive ways to deal with it instead of the habitual mishaps of leaders not recognizing that their people are struggling and providing them with zero flexibility to take care of themselves. When those on your team feel overwhelmed or are not being treated fairly, the first person they should be able to turn to is you, their leader. But if they don’t feel that they have a leader that will actively listen to them and what they are going through, that’s where the miscommunication begins.
Figuring out other people’s communication styles can be difficult. Especially in our professional lives, when we may not feel as open and comfortable with those in the workplace as we do with those close to us. It takes time, focus, and again, a lot of active listening. But let’s face it - we tend to spend more time with our workplace family than we sometimes do with our actual family, so there’s no better time than now to address these communication issues head-on. When miscommunication problems arise, there are typically two types of coping mechanisms: Emotion-focused and problem-focused. Emotion-focused coping is when you try to deal with your emotional response to a stressor, meaning your efforts are put towards eliminating or simply tolerating your emotional response to said stressor instead of actually trying to solve the problem. Emotional examples include withdrawal, letting out anger and frustration, emotional support seeking, distractions, or accepting the problem will always exist.
For example, if someone on your team is feeling overwhelmed because they have too much on their plate, but they don’t feel comfortable enough to come to you about it and just accept that “it is what it is,” - they are using emotion-focused coping. Instead of coming to you directly and addressing the problem at hand so that you can provide a proper delegation solution, they deal with it on their own and eventually find themselves in a state of burnout. To avoid miscommunications like this, check in with your team members often and know exactly what you are delegating. Allow them to speak up if they’re struggling, and you will see a huge change in morale.
Problem-focused coping strategies aim to remove or reduce the cause of the stressor by acts of problem-solving or optimizing tools such as time management to adapt a strategy to try to deal with the stressor directly. Using the same example as above, if you have a team member who is struggling and overwhelmed with their workload, they would use problem-solving techniques such as planning ahead or coming to you to alleviate the problem altogether.
Miscommunications continue to happen and become problematic because leaders and fellow coworkers sometimes lack compassion and consideration for taking the time to listen to the needs of those around them. Your team shouldn’t have to push themselves to the limit each and every day for changes to be made. I remember when a manager of mine could always pick up the nonverbal communication that I was not doing well. It’s not as though I did this intentionally or constantly wore my mood on my face, but he was just actively paying attention. He knew my demeanor was off, and eventually, when he asked how I was really doing, he also actively listened to what I had to say. He gave me that outlet to come to him and trust him to listen to my concerns. Something at the time I may not have openly done myself. Practicing empathy is a huge part of the active listening process, and doing so often will make a huge impact on being able to implement that into your everyday workplace interactions.
As a leader, it’s your job to know how your team operates. What is running smoothly, what roles need to be filled, and where things can be improved. Part of team cohesion is promoting emotional intelligence. If your people aren’t comfortable enough expressing their feelings and concerns, and you’re not doing your due diligence to check in on them often without micromanaging, that leaves the window open for a lot of miscommunication. Many leaders don’t realize the huge weight this bears on the organization itself. If you have ever suffered burnout, you know it leaves you feeling unheard, unseen, and just plain unproductive. Having your people be unproductive consistently, will quickly affect your bottom line and contribute to not only a dip in morale but a loss of revenue. But when your people realize that their well-being is truly cared about and they feel heard, they will begin to see that their workplace contributions matter and are purposeful. That will go a long way when it comes to seeing someone as an individual who has unique needs and how active listening plays a big part in reducing miscommunications at work.