In many ways, the advent of telecommuting in 2020 has complicated our collective capacity to listen to one another.

With the ability to mute yourself, turn off your camera, leave meetings at any point, and discreetly multitask from behind the screen, technology has perhaps hindered our interpersonal skills as much as it’s enabled us to connect.

But the emergence of remote work shouldn’t lead to the decline of active listening.

Active listening means committing all of your attention and concentration to the speaker, and using mindfulness and empathy to fully understand what’s being said. Often active listeners will employ non-verbal cues and body language to establish an environment of trust and judgment-free engagement.

The small gestures of active listening go a long way to foster inclusive
workplace cultures.

Delving deeper with your conversational partner will allow you to connect with them on a more meaningful emotional level, and you may find yourself learning valuable lessons from their unique lived experiences.

Passive listening (or distracted listening) can critically diminish workplace morale, and make employees feel personally excluded from an otherwise cohesive culture. When employees feel truly heard by the leaders they look up to, they feel more welcome, valued, and excited to show up for their team.

On a productivity level, active listening drastically improves communication and reduces instances of misunderstanding that can slow progress.

These quick tips can help you reap the rewards of active listening:

  • On virtual meetings, avoid using your computer for anything other than the project/task at hand
  • Dedicate your full attention to conversations, and show that commitment (nodding, eye contact, agreeing, etc.)
  • Be cautious of frequent interruptions and notice who is interrupted most often
  • Read between the lines to engage with the speaker’s emotions and thoughts
    rather than just their words (be aware of tone, body language, facial expressions, etc.)
  • Periodically reiterate key points in the conversation to ensure you’re fully understanding what’s being discussed

Active listening is a practice and a daily skill—not a one-time exercise—and as such requires continual effort to generate long-term benefits.

It ultimately falls to caring leaders to establish inclusive workplaces where everyone feels heard and prioritized, and active listening should be seen as one tool in the caring leader’s diverse arsenal of strategies.

The most effective leaders realize they can better inspire their teams by sharing the floor rather than dominating it.