Global research published in 2009 by Towers Watson, which analyzed 40 companies over three years, showed that organizations with a highly engaged workforce had a superior financial performance (a 5.75 percent difference in operating margins and a 3.44 percent difference in net profit margins) than did low-engagement workplaces. It's clear that engagement is good for the bottom line and yet far too many organizations fail to put in the appropriate time, effort and energy into improving engagement on a daily basis.
There are many reasons why we tune others out during a conversation. Some of us are busy thinking of what we're going to say next and others listen only long enough to determine whether the speaker's views conform with their own. The additional bias of power and our own preconceived notions severely limit how much information we actually retain during a conversation. The solution is to learn to listen better. Sounds easy, right?
If you're going to engage the people on your team you have to have meaningful, relevant and regular conversations with them. It's okay if you respectfully disagree during these conversations. That sparks change, innovation and leads to higher levels of performance. Employees who don't believe their bosses are listening to them are less likely to offer helpful suggestions and new ideas, says a 2007 study of 3,372 workers in Academy of Management Journal. Engagement isn't an event it's a process and your role as a leader is to facilitate the process.
Here are some steps you can take to improve your listening skills:
- make eye contact when the person is speaking (we learn more from body language and vocal tone than we do from the actual message)
- take notes (remember that immediately after a conversation we only retain about 10%)
- ask probing questions to get more depth of detail
- use pauses to draw out more detail (people will tell you quite a bit more to avoid the discomfort of a drawn out silence)
- let them know that you're paying attention as you're taking notes by making noises such as "hmmm", or "oh"
- summarize what they've said to you...hey, you've got notes to refer to!
The truth is that listening isn't easy for many of us. It takes practice and focus. Try going into your next 1 on 1 meeting with a plan. Have some questions prepared and make your mind up that you're only going to talk 25% of the time. The meeting should be about them, not you.