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How to Listen to Employees and

Let Them Know They’ve Been Heard
 
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Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD

How to Listen to Employees and Let Them Know They’ve Been Heard

Feeling heard is a critical ingredient to any positive relationship- both personally and professionally. When it comes to your business, listening to your employees and letting them know how they have been heard delivers many benefits, including the following.

Empowerment

In surveying over 1,500 professionals on values-driven leadership, Salesforce found that when an employee feels heard, that person is 4.6 times more likely1 to feel empowered to perform to the best of their abilities.

Engagement

When employees feel heard, engagement increases, and that has a positive impact on your business. A Gallup study of over 100,000 teams2 found that, when employees are engaged, there is 23% greater profitability,  81% less absenteeism and a significant decrease in turnover.

Retention

People want to work at a place where they feel valued and appreciated. With the Great Resignation upon us, 65% of workers3 are looking for new jobs.

Research shows4 that employees tend to leave a company after a significant shock has occurred. Indeed, the pandemic falls into that category. By genuinely listening to your employees, they can feel heard as they go through this challenging time. This can help facilitate a greater sense of alignment and connection with your business, resulting in staying at their current workplace.

Innovation

Employees have the inside scoop as to what is working and what is not. What’s more, their knowledge and experience make them great resources to solve problems that may be present. In fact, 82% of employees have ideas5 about how their company can achieve better results. Sadly, about 1/3 feel as though their company is not listening to their ideas.

Those are powerful benefits, especially for something that essentially has no cost to you. To reap these perks, try any of the following 11 strategies to listen to your employees and let them know they are heard.

Start with surveys

Surveys can be an easy way to listen to your employees. These surveys can be about any topic: Management, transitions, engagement… The key is to (1) identify the information you want to have, (2) provide an anonymous way for employees to share honestly, (3) listen to the feedback and (4) then communicate what you learned and what you are going to do.

Surveys are great to get a general pulse of your employees, and they are a means to listen to how they are dealing with a specific situation (reentry, managerial changes, engagement…)

For some ideas on engagement surveys, click here.

Use authentic listening

Much talk is centered around active listening (where the listener provides feedback indicating they hear and understand the speaking). Authentic listening takes it to another level. With authentic listening, the goal is not just to help the speaker feel heard; it is actually to hear the speaker on multiple levels. Here are some tips to boost your authentic listening:



  • Get rid of distractions. Put your phone away, turn off notifications, make sure the environment is conducive to listening (e.g., no loud construction outside)
  • Use your nonverbals: Look at the person in the eye, nod your head or acknowledge in another way that you hear them.
  • Ask clarifying questions. As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” So, verify what you heard with “I want to make sure I heard what you said.” Then repeat what you heard and ask if that is accurate.
  • Put down the gavel: Stop judging others’ reactions or opinions. Try to hear from their perspective. There is a phrase in conflict management that can help other parties feel listened to. “I would feel like that if I were you, too.” Why? Because if you were in their person’s head and had all of their same thoughts, you would feel the same. Try listening from this perspective.
  • Focus on non-verbals: Is your employee spending more time frowning than smiling? Giving you a look of confusion, crossing their arms and speaking quietly? These are all non-verbal cues that can give you more information regarding what your team member is experiencing. 
  • Be aware of what is not being said: Part of great listening is being aware of what is not being overtly said. If, for example, you notice a previously gregarious employee is suddenly quiet, this is an excellent opportunity to ask them how they are doing.



Create a culture that encourages open communication

For employees to feel like you are listening, you need for them to share their thoughts and for you to listen. To openly communicate with you, employees need to feel safe in doing so. Creating a culture that encourages open communication is vital to doing so. How can you do this? One way is to have an open-door policy, where team members know they can come in and speak with you about anything.

Another way to create a culture that encourages open communication is to have one-on-one meetings with your employees. Grab a cup of coffee together (even if on Zoom) and give them your undivided attention.

Follow-up is vital. After hearing a concern or idea from your employee, make sure you circle back to follow up on how things are going. For example, if a team member shares stress related to the health of a loved one, continue to reach out, asking how their loved one and your team member are doing. 

Another component of this is to acknowledge when you mess up. You are human and will make mistakes. A leader who is forthcoming with their own mistakes helps create a culture of trust and safety in sharing other missteps.

What’s more, if you sense someone is not speaking up about something they feel passionate about, make sure you check in with them on a one-on-one conversation. Some people are uncomfortable sharing their thoughts in a meeting but have much they want to say.

Don’t take it personally

Sometimes your employees may offer feedback that can be hard to hear if you take it personally. And with all you do for your company, it may be challenging not to personalize when someone critiques your leadership or policies. However, for your employees to feel heard, you must check your ego at the door. This is business, not personal. Not personalizing can be a challenge for many. Coaching can help you see that the information you receive will only help you be a better leader and help your business excel.

Point out the positives

Employees may hear feedback on how they can perform better, but how about when they do something positive? As a manager, it is vital that you acknowledge your team members in both outcomes and efforts. Did an employee stay late to complete an important project? If so, recognize and appreciate their extra effort.

Despite the size of the company, Forder YUM! Brands David Novak was notorious for employee recognition. At Pizza Hut, he gave out cheese head hats to recognize when team members did something positive. During his career, Novak was named one of the world’s “30 Best CEOs” by Barron’s,

In his New York Times bestseller Taking People With You, The Only Way to Achieve Big Things6, Novak highlights the importance of recognition in helping optimize culture and, ultimately, the business's success.

In addition to pointing out the positives, stop negativity when it is present. Address head-on any gossiping or talking about people behind their backs in an unkind way.

Enhance emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence includes five components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. All of these can help your employees feel heard. For example, one of my coaching clients is the CEO of a company with about 60 employees. He tends to speak his mind, engage in laser problem solving and move on quickly to the next issue. To many, his approach feels like their ideas are being shut down. By helping enhance his self-awareness, he has changed his interactions with team members, resulting in them feeling more heard.

Expressing empathy is even more vital now than ever. Many people are struggling. Acknowledging that times are hard, listening to their struggles and being empathetic to their concerns can go a long way in helping your employees feel listened to.

Know your team members

Knowing your team members, both professionally, such as their DISC profile, and personally, will help them feel heard. Understanding what motivates them, what is going on in their lives, what they most value will allow you to tailor conversations (both in terms of the questions you ask as well as what you listen to) to optimize your employees feeling heard.

Identify and share core strengths

Knowing your strengths as well as those of your employees will also help boost a sense of being heard because you can speak “in their language.” The Clifton Strengths assessment is a great way to do this. For example, if an employee tends to be more analytic, they search for reasons and causes. A conversation with them will want to focus on helping them better understand what is happening. Someone whose strength is competition strives to win. Conversations with them will want to be focused on how they can excel.

Act upon what you hear

Regardless of how you glean information from your workers, it is vital that you act upon what you hear. Asking for their opinions and doing nothing is worse than not asking at all. Employees will feel like their trust has been violated, which will likely result in a plummet in morale and engagement. Address the requested changes by either carrying them out or, if that is not possible, addressing head-on why you cannot make these changes at this time. And if this latter is the case, look for ways to compromise.  One CEO heard feedback from his employees that they wanted to continue their remote work regiment. However, given the nature of the company’s work, this was not possible. He was, however, able to offer remote working up to one day/week. His team appreciated hearing the rationale and was grateful for the compromise.

Prioritize listening

Make listening a priority for you and your leadership team. Ask yourself each day how well you listened that day and be honest with yourself. Get feedback from others to help you become an even better listener. You can even take it a step further for your team: include listening skills in performance appraisals.

Address stress

A stressed brain tends to view things in a negative light. So, even if you are doing a stellar job at listening to your employees, they may not realize it if they are overwhelmed with stress.

And your team is likely stressed. According to a recent Gallup poll, 57% of workers reported feeling stress daily, up by eight percentage points from the previous year.

In my newest book, Get Out of the Red Zone: Transform your Stress and Optimize True Success, I share numerous ways to help better manage stress levels at work. After consulting for one company, for example, the executive team instituted a “check in” practice where, especially before a one-on-one meeting, each person identifies how distressed they were feeling from 0 (“Not at all”) to 10 (“The most distressed someone could be”). The psychological Red Zone happens when we are at a 7/10 or higher. And in the Red Zone, it is difficult to focus, problem solve and be effective at work. Whenever a team member is in the Red Zone, this company now takes steps to help them address their stress. The result? Employees feel heard and valued; and meetings can occur when each person is in a better place to focus.

Try any or all of these strategies to best listen to employees and let them know they’ve been heard. And, remember, listening is a skill, just like learning to play golf or learning a new language. As such, anyone can get trained on the skills and, with practice, get even better.

References:

1- New research: How leading with equality and values impacts your business. Salesforce Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2021, from http://answers.salesforce.com/blog/2017/07/impact-of-equality-business-research.html.

2- Gallup, I. (2021, September 3). Gallup Q12® meta-analysis. Gallup.com. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/321725/gallup-q12-meta-analysis-report.aspx?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=new_workplace_non_branded_employee_engagement&utm_term=benefits+of+employee+ engagment &gclid=CjwKCAjw_L6LBhBbEiwA4c46uk74pzH5kPFTR3zDNYVeXOBgY3CP5cwxIiFdrraeVODVQa14BZlL6hoC7wIQAvD_BwE.

3- Leonhardt, M. (2021, August 20). 65% of U.S. workers are looking for a new job. Fortune. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://fortune.com/2021/08/20/us-workers-looking-for-jobs/.

4- Holtom, B. C., Mitchell, T. R., Lee, T. W., & Inderrieden, E. J. (2005, August 23). Shocks as causes of turnover: What they are and how organizations can manage them. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hrm.20074.

5- Jordan, A. (2021, August 16). Most employees don't feel their ideas are being heard most employees don't feel their ideas are being heard. Small Business UK. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://smallbusiness.co.uk/employee-ideas-business-listening-2544393/.

6- Novak, D. (2013). Taking people with you: The only way to make big things happen. Portfolio/Penguin. 

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