Teaching Active Listening to All Employees

The way you communicate has a huge influence on the operational speed of your organization.

two businesspeople engaged in conversation
fizkes/stock.adobe.com

More than one intelligent person has quipped that money (or math) makes the world go 'round. But in reality, it's communication that makes this little blue marble spin. Just about everything that happens on Earth would grind to a halt without it, and the way you communicate has a huge influence on the operational speed of your organization. That speed, in turn, determines your competitive strength.

With that mindset, at KnowBe4, we view improving communication as significantly strengthening the organization, and we see active listening as the best communication skill you can develop and use. We have formal training to teach active listening to every employee, regardless of their role.

Foundational Principles and Concepts

To give our training solid footing, we first make sure our employees understand that active listening has three major goals:

• To understand what the other person is telling you, both cognitively and empathetically.

• To remember the information they've passed to you.

• To acknowledge and respond to the other person effectively.

I find it's that last point that really makes people feel heard and respected, and it helps them trust you.

Responding the right way requires you to really understand what the other person is saying. In great conversation, both people are constantly truly understanding each other.

Active Listening Rules and Tips

Once our employees grasp the key concepts above, we give them specific active listening strategies and guidelines they can practice whenever they talk to somebody:

• Eliminate whatever could distract you and look at the other person. When they see that you've given them your full attention, that allows them to feel important and let their guard down more. It's also easier for you to take in and remember their information because nothing else is competing for your focus.

• Don't talk or try to do anything else. Your only job is to listen. Eliminating distractions makes "multitasking" less tempting.

• Read between the lines. Are there specific actions happening that relate to the conversation? What's the other person feeling? What's their intent? To really understand their voice, you have to take all of this into consideration and interpret the big picture.

• Observe nonverbal cues. Remember, communication isn't just what comes out of your mouth. It's elements like posture, facial expressions or even nervous little movements like tapping a pen. These cues can tell you what the other person might not really want or know how to say. They give you a better sense of what they really think and feel in the moment.

• Ask questions. Good inquiry lets you double-check that you really understood what the other person meant, but it also gives you a great chance to get even more information you can use to respond in an even better way.

• Ensure true understanding is happening; sometimes, this is called "duplication." For example, can you repeat a short list the other person gave you?

All of these points are written out for our employees so they have them as a reference during and after the training. Like our full handbook, these training documents make it clear what we expect in the KnowBe4 culture. We stress that we want every employee to feel comfortable going to each other and taking extreme ownership of how they communicate and interact. We make it easy for everybody to access our organizational chart so they know exactly who to go to. By teaching all of this from day one while still emphasizing that business can be an exciting, fun game, every person on the team is prepared to listen to the other players, build strong relationships and get stuff done.

To Strengthen Your Organization, Start Your Training Now

Active listening is something you and others can get better at. Knowing what it's meant to accomplish and having specific checkpoints to use as you practice go a long way toward improving the skill fast. So if you want to strengthen your organization, use this example and train people on how to actively listen in a formal, intentional way. You're likely to get better morale and productivity at the same time, and that's always a win for the whole team.

The Newsweek Expert Forum is an invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.
What's this?
Content labeled as the Expert Forum is produced and managed by Newsweek Expert Forum, a fee based, invitation only membership community. The opinions expressed in this content do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Newsweek or the Newsweek Expert Forum.