We spend our lives being taught to read, write, and speak, all of which are important qualities to being a successful adult in all facets of life. Reflecting upon our educational upbringings however, are we ever really taught to listen? In today’s day and age, listening has become one of the most important, yet least practiced, tools for success and leadership. No matter what industry you are in, employees want to feel like they can approach their boss with questions, concerns, and ideas – these employees want to know that they are being heard, while feeling like their opinions matter.

Studies over the years have shown that 97 percent of leaders believe that listening to their employees is critical for success, yet only 32 percent of U.S. employees feel engaged in the workforce. These discrepancies are alarming, yet many business owners have failed to incorporate systems in their workplaces to mitigate the issue of employee disengagement. It comes as no surprise that this gap can be attributed to the lack of listening that occurs in the workplace – not just with leaders, but with peers.

Today, we have the entire world at our fingertips. Social media, online review websites, and overall technology has made it all too easy for businesses to listen to their employees and their customer base, yet many people are still not listening to what is being said. By putting more focus on how to listen, when to listen, and putting those questions, concerns, and ideas to use, loyal and trustworthy relationships form. In turn, these relationships will lead to a more engaged workforce, which leads to increased innovation, performance, and overall productivity.

But what can be done to improve listening skills throughout the workforce today?

Mindfulness

In previous blogs, we have discussed mindfulness at length, on a more personal scale. However, by honing your own mindfulness skills, you can learn to become a better listener to your employees. Mindfulness sounds like a daunting task, but can be practiced in the shortest amounts of time throughout the day. Whether you take a few minutes to yourself before a meeting, or start a ten minute meditation practice in the morning, all of this can be essential to honing your listening skills. All you really need is a quiet space to mentally “walk-through” scenarios and/or potentially difficult and stressful situations. Through enhanced mindfulness, you will have the ability to focus fully and accurately on what your employees are saying to you.

Put Down Devices

When an employee comes to you with a concern, question, or idea, it is vital that you put down the iPhone and close your laptop. When you have distractions, you are engaging in poor listening techniques. Your attention is not fully on your employee, but instead, focused on juggling ten things at once. It can be difficult to allocate the time to actually hear your employees, but it is vital that when you do meet with them, your attention is focused solely on them in that moment. This is another key reason why mindfulness is so important, because without it, you will not have the ability to focus on the present moment.

Create Time

One of the most game-changing systems you can implement throughout your workforce is to create time blocks that are dedicated to hearing your employees and customers. Whether you are actively spending that time reading and responding to customer reviews and complaints, or dedicating that time to hearing your staff’s ideas, scheduling a set time every week can allow you to manage your schedule better, while being sure to use that time for your employees. Furthermore, it is important to stop overbooking your day – when you do not have free time to sit, evaluate, relate, and understand what your employees and consumers are saying, you will never really hear them.

Ask Questions 

During staff meetings or one-on-one’s, are you asking the questions or simply listening? Are you asking direct, concise questions to every individual, or are you (or another employee) doing all of the talking? These habits create a workplace culture that encourages employees to remain quiet and listen to what they are being told – instead of fostering a culture that promotes free-thinking and speaking up. When you are asking questions and/or allocating time for your staff to voice their concerns, it is vital that you look them in the eye. Make sure they know that your undivided attention is on them, which creates a workplace culture that employees want to be a part of long-term.

This week, try using one, if not all, of these suggestions to improve workplace listening tools. It is time for employers to start asking more questions and eliciting feedback, while using mindfulness techniques to fully listen to what employees and customers are saying. Basically, it is time to stop talking and start listening.