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One of the greatest tools communicators and leaders have is the ability to listen to peers and employees.

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Does this active listening scenario sound familiar?

You’re talking to your kid as your family scrambles to head out the door for school. You’re already late and all your son has to do is put on his shoes. You’ve asked him several times. As your volume cranks up, your son looks up at you, eyes glazed. He has the nerve to ask you the question you don’t want to hear.


You can probably name at least a few people in your life who haven’t listened to you: friends, siblings, spouse or partner, parents. It’s maddening. You’re trying to engage in conversation and they’re not doing their part.

Lack of communication or poor communication happens at work, too

You can probably name a few times when a boss or co-workers haven’t listened, to you. They don’t remember that good idea you had or remember it was yours. You’re not alone. Poor communication is named as the number one reason why teamwork and projects fail. It’s also a top reason why companies fail.

man discussing his intranet on his laptopSymptoms include employees not understanding a company mission, vision or value proposition and lack of understanding what customers need or want. Those are much larger issues that have the same root cause.

It’s all about communicating and more importantly, listening.

What is active listening?

It’s the art of listening in a way where you’re truly engaged in the conversation and you’re seeking to understand the other person. It requires you to:

  1. Focus on what’s being said, instead of waiting to respond.
  2. Engage by asking for clarification, and restating information in your own words to verify whether it’s accurate.
  3. Patiently gain that verification.
  4. Understand and accept.

Why is active listening so hard?

If it was easy, we’d do it all the time, right? Here are a few statistics of why active listening is so difficult to do day in and day out:

Our attention spans are really short

The average attention span is about eight seconds; that’s about the same amount of time as a goldfish’s attention span. Some scientists believe that our attention spans are growing shorter due to smartphones.

microsoft teams - a way to share and collaborate without using slackIf you feel your mind wander, reel it back in by verifying or clarifying information. It’s a shortcut to re-engage your brain. If it’s impossible, check in to see if the communication can wait and let the other person know you want to give it your full attention, but you can’t.

We’re busy and impatient

Day-to-day, we’re struggling to get everything done – work, eat, juggle school activities, pick up groceries, fix dinner, wash clothes, etc. We find ourselves hurrying conversations to go back to what we were doing before.

Truly engaging in a conversation demands we’re patient and thoughtfully engaged. Slow down. Take a breath and focus.

We stink at multitasking

Inc. indicates multitasking is hurting our brains because our brains weren’t built for it … especially men’s brains. (Sorry, men!) The mental task lists or grocery items we’re storing are overwriting the ability to hold conversations thoughtfully.

Stop! If there’s absolutely something you can’t forget, write it down and re-engage. One idea – take a picture with your phone so you remember to come back to it.

We desperately want to be understood

You’re in a conversation with a friend and it sparks a thought, but you’re forced to wait until your friend stops talking for you to say it. Sound familiar? We’re wanting to be understood – it’s the human condition – even at the risk of not understanding someone else.

Being understood is important, but not as important as understanding. Be patient and wait. You’ll have your turn.

We’re judgmental

Bias, preconception, whatever you call it – as we interact with people we’re making judgments that discount or devalue what people are saying. We’re thinking about the way they’re dressed, how they talk, what they’re doing, and correcting information in our minds. For example, if you’re thinking one of your friends talks nonstop or that a loved one couldn’t tell a story to save his life, you’re judging them.

Judging is something all of us do, but when we’re aware of our biases and can take a step back to be more open-minded, everyone benefits. Besides thinking of all the reasons we like them, be open minded.

We’re physically unwell or just plain tired

Gallup says that 40% of us are getting less sleep than we should. Looking at trends, we’re getting less sleep than we used to, too. During the 1940s, it was more common to get a full eight hours of sleep. There are lots of reasons why we’re sleep deprived – from stress to the light from your smartphone.

Sometimes we’re just unwell. When we’re unwell, it’s harder to listen, too – even simple colds (where hearing is blocked) make it harder to engage.

Although we can’t stop conversations from happening, we can do our best to explain our own limitations. People have more empathy and greater understanding when we do.

Knowing all that, striving makes us better

Think about the last argument you had with your family or friends. It can probably be boiled down to listening, being present and in the moment and focusing on what someone is saying. It’s important at home and it’s equally important at work.

Actively listening means you’re fully engaged and ready to receive information. And if you’re in Internal Communications, it’s more important that you try and demonstrate this skill. After all, you know your best skill is your listening.

When we actively listen, the benefits are greater:

  • We’re caring about and valuing people – friends, family, co-workers and more
  • We’re building relationships and a shared-understanding
  • We’re getting clearer information
  • We’re receiving useful information
  • We’re becoming enlightened

These benefits are something all employees, spouses, partners, families and friends can get behind.

Share our infographic with friends and co-workers who should be listening

Please include attribution. (And thanks!)If you’re in communications, gather employee feedback through your intranet using two-way communication opportunities. See an intranet demo.

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