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How to use active listening to improve your organizational culture

Heather Nolan
October 12, 2020
How to use active listening to improve your organizational culture

In a healthy workplace, there is a culture of collaboration where people are friendly with each other and leadership understands exactly what each employee needs to do their best work. 

That kind of understanding and solid relationship-building can only happen in an organization where people listen to one another. The employees’ concerns, feelings, and ideas need to be heard by their leaders and co-workers. 

A lot of people could afford to brush up on their listening skills. We all have at least one friend or relative in our lives who listens just so they can figure out what to say next. People who listen to respond rather than to understand are missing a crucial skill — active listening. 

Active listening is the act of hearing someone out, absorbing what they are saying without having an agenda of your own, and taking the time to show them you understand (usually by repeating what they are saying in your own words). 

It is an incredibly important skill for anyone who works with other people, and pretty much anyone who wants to be a good friend, partner or parent.

We looked to therapists, business consultants, and executives for insight into how active listening operates in the workplace.

Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the founder of Take Root Therapy believes it is a critical component of building a good organizational culture.

“Making active listening a tenet of workplace culture is important, because it fosters mutual respect, boosts morale, and builds rapport among staff (and supervisors)” she said. “It also creates trust and an expectation that solutions in the workplace, in general, will be arrived at mindfully, collaboratively, and will be specific to their concerns. This creates a precedent and likely helps folks feel more able to come forward in the future.”

Jaime-Alexis Fowler, founder and executive director of Empower Work, a non-profit helpline for those dealing with work-related issues, says that now more than ever, due to our increasingly virtual interactions, it’s actually the unsaid that we need to listen for.

“We talk often about (how) culturally we're taught to listen for situational details, but not deeper awareness,” she said. “Active listening is being attune to values, emotions, beliefs — and often what's not being said. It's often thought of more in relation to face to face, but it's absolutely critical for our more digital and written interactions be it on Slack, email, or text. Hearing someone more deeply builds trust, connection, understanding, and a sense of inclusion and belonging.”

Ray Zinn, Silicon Valley's longest serving CEO, wrote about active listening in the workplace in his book, “Tough Things First.”

“Active listeners project empathy, teach as part of their listening and act kindly in response,” he wrote. “A lack of active listening communicates a disregard for the employee which makes active listening critical to building a healthy company culture.”

Listening to respond in an understanding, validating and helpful way will help you and your employees build stronger, more trusting relationships that will in turn improve the overall culture of your organization.

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Heather Nolan

Heather Nolan is a marketing specialist at Sidecar. A former journalist and social media manager, Heather lives in New Orleans with her husband, son, and grumpy rescue dog.

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