Why Listening Is the Most Important Supervisor Skill

Why Listening Is the Most Important Supervisor Skill

Most of us recognize that clear communication is necessary for a supervisor to be successful. We often think of communication as a dialogue between two people, but there is more to it than that. What about listening? Would you consider listening to be a part of the communication process? Listening is a soft skill essential to the communication skill set. Listening allows us to understand the information presented to us, making it the most critical supervisor skill to possess.


Can a supervisor improve listening skills?

Listening is an essential skill in the workplace. When your boss gives you guidelines on completing a project or task, good listening skills will help you clearly understand the desired outcome and the expectation for the process used in reaching that goal. Quality listening skills are needed to help you carry out your duties as a supervisor. If you practice your listening skills, you will get along better with your co-workers and clients. Knowing just how necessary listening skills are to success in the workplace might make you ask yourself, 'Can I improve my current listening skills?' The answer is YES. You might also ask yourself, 'What can I do to improve my listening skills?' Continue reading for some tips that might help improve your listening skills.



1. Don't Interrupt


You can probably recount when you were telling a story or giving instructions, and someone interrupted you before you could even finish. How did it make you feel? You most likely thought that the person who interrupted you didn't care or wasn't truly engaged and paying attention. The first rule of thumb for being a better listener is not interrupting others. Let them finish their thoughts. Not only is it rude to interrupt someone, but it also comes across as an attitude of superiority. If you absolutely must stop someone from speaking to ask a question, either wait for a pause in the conversation or interrupt politely. Ask permission to jump into the conversation. This can't be stressed enough. When speaking with your co-workers and teams, it's best not to interrupt them. Let them finish before you jump in.



2. Maintain Eye Contact


Have you ever been speaking to someone as they are looking over their shoulder or scanning through their cell phone? I bet you realized that they weren't paying attention to you. Doing things other than maintaining eye contact is disrespectful and signals that the person doesn't value the person speaking or what they have to say. Looking someone directly in the eyes as they are talking forces that individual to pay attention and helps prevent distractions. This also lets the person speaking know that you are fully vested in what they say. It's vital that supervisors actively listen to co-workers and team members. Be fully vested and maintain eye contact.



3. Ensure Understanding


The first tip to improve listening skills was not to interrupt when someone is talking, so this may seem like a contradiction, but it isn't. When someone is speaking, you will want to ensure that you understand them correctly. At times, that may mean interrupting to ask for clarification. Once they have finished speaking, you should always summarize the highlights of what they have just conveyed and ask any questions you might have. This will confirm that you have understood the person correctly. As a supervisor, your employees might approach you with a new idea on how the work can be done more productively. You may think there is no way this can work but have an open mind. Before you decide it's not doable, be sure you understand the suggestions, look for possible benefits of what is proposed, and ask questions. Remember, there are no stupid questions. Asking is the intelligent thing to do, and it shows that you value input from your employees.



4. Be Aware of Body Language


If maintaining eye contact is important when actively listening, so is your body language. You should either sit or stand still during a conversation. Do not fidget with papers, phones, or gadgets. This will make you appear bored to the speaker. As someone speaks to you, you should nod your head occasionally to let them know you are receiving the information. Supervisors, take note. Paying attention to the speaker's body language is often just as important as the words themselves. Sometimes what they don't say is as important as what they do say. Look for clues such as facial expressions to fully understand what is said. Supervisors, when the role is reversed, and you are the one talking, make sure you also express your thoughts and feelings through body language. This will keep both the speaker and the listener engaged.



5. Practice Empathy


Practicing empathetic listening is quite simple. Put yourself in the speaker's shoes. Your goal is to try to understand them emotionally. To be empathetic is to be generous and put your heart and soul into the conversation. Try to remain present in the moment. Understanding what your speaker is feeling will let them know you genuinely care. It always helps to try to see situations from different perspectives.


Nurturing listening skills will help produce multiple benefits in the workplace. You need to be a good listener to build trust with your teams and help them be more productive. Employees' views and opinions are important, and knowing supervisors "hear" their concerns, frustrations, ideas, and opinions will fuel their productivity. Supervisors can also resolve conflicts between co-workers by listening objectively and hearing all sides without judgment or bias. Finally, supervisors who take the time to listen to their employees actively will build a strongly committed culture within the workplace. While we all know how to listen, if you are actively listening and consistently practicing some of the tips in this blog, you will begin to reap the benefits in the workplace.



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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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