The Value of Active Listening Skills

January 9, 2017

 

Imagine you’re a client talking to two salespeople about your wishes for a service. One of them is attentive to your concerns, and engaging with them. The other is just pushing their services as much as they can. Who would you buy from?

 

It might not surprise you that according to business psychologists, De Ruyter and Wetzels (2000), the listening salesperson is more likely to keep their client and sell more product.

 

Universally Applicable

It’s not just sales. Simply put, people prefer to buy from, promote, and work for someone that listens. The research suggests that good listeners are more likely to advance quicker in their careers. (Brownell, 1994) Classic management research finds employees are happier and more productive when they are working for someone who listens well (Stine, Thompson, & Cusella, 1995).

 

Whether you’re in sales, customer service, human resources, management, or directing a company, you’ll find that professional listening skills training will help you work better (Flynn, Valikoski & Garu, 2008). In virtually every profession where the effect of active listening has been studied, active listening is found to be a key predictor of success, including for information technology professionals (Hornik, Chen, Klein, & Jiang, 2003; Partridge & Kleiner, 1992), safety  managers (Blair, 1999), manufacturing agents (Caudill & White, 1991), business coaches (Good, 1993), and change managers (Cunningham, 1992).

 

Benefits to You

People are perceived as smarter and more trustworthy when you are a better listener (Stine, Thompson, & Cusella, 1995). How does silently nodding and asking the occasional relevant question make you seem smarter or more trustworthy? For one by speaking, most people intend to indicate that (at least they think) they have something important to say. By listening to them, you demonstrate that you have the intellect to recognise the value of their communication. Furthermore, listening shows that you recognise the value of the speaker as a person. This makes them like you in return and thus believe you to be more trustworthy.

 

Not only does active listening make you appear to be better, it makes you actually BE better at work. If you manage others and are a good listener, your team will have increased productivity (Stine, Thompson, & Cusella, 1995). It will help you advance. (Brownell, 1994). In general, active listening helps employees work smarter, and have overall higher performance (Sujan, Weitz & Lehmann, 1994).

This might not be surprising when you really think about it. Truly listening allows you to maximise efficiency of receiving information, and helps you understand others. You will be able to comprehend with great detail what has been said, and see the perspective of those you converse with. With information comes power, and with understanding comes insight. Ultimately this helps you make better informed decisions, make better pitches that appeal to your audience, and strike better deals.

 

Benefits to your Company

Listening not only reflects on you; it reflects on your entire company. Nowadays, with people personally engaging with a company on the phone or on social media, the listening skills of one employee can be perceived as part of company culture (Välikoski, 2004).

For example, if I complain about an airline on Twitter, I expect a response. If the customer agent managing the account does not respond in a thoughtful way that shows they listened, I will feel like the airline – as an entire entity (justified or not) – “doesn’t listen” to their customers. If I were creative enough, perhaps I would make a viral video about this perceived company culture. Something like this can greatly damage your reputation, perhaps without you even knowing.

 

Despite all this, most people still don’t truly know how to listen (see next week’s blog post!). Great active listening is about showing compassion, asking relevant questions, and so much more. See our courses for more information.

 

Executive summary

People prefer to buy from, hire, and work for someone that listens. In virtually every profession where the effect of active listening has been studied, active listening is found to be a key predictor of success, with countless benefits.

If you are a good active listener, you are perceived as smarter and more trustworthy (Stine, Thompson, & Cusella, 1995), your team will have increased productivity (ibid), and you will be more likely to advance in your career (Brownell, 1994). In general, active listening helps employees work smarter, and have overall higher performance (Sujan, Weitz & Lehmann, 1994). When you think about it, it’s really not so surprising.

 

It’s not just about the benefits to your career; it’s about the whole company. Nowadays, with people personally engaging with a company on the phone or on social media, the listening skills of one employee can be perceived as part of company culture (Välikoski, 2004). This can greatly affect your reputation, perhaps without you even knowing.

 

Despite all this, most people still don’t truly know how to listen (see our next blog post!). Great active listening is about showing compassion, asking relevant questions, and so much more. See our courses for more information.

 

Note: Most of the cited research stems from a review by Flynn, Valikoski & Garu (2008). Highly recommended reading!

 

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