December 9, 2014

4 Ways Listening Improves Teamwork.

Jonathan Powell/Flickr

One of the most important elements of excellent teamwork is feeling valued.

When members of a team learn and practice a few simple listening techniques—and do them consistently until they become routine behaviors—the quality of teamwork will improve.

This happens because team members will feel that their ideas are being heard.

Coworkers also need to feel free to share ideas that may be edgy or out of the ordinary.

When there’s a free flow of ideas, and people can comfortably share their opinions and feelings about the work, the project, or each other in a constructive way, that’s the recipe for a resilient, highly productive, cohesive team.

Listening is about making and strengthening a connection with another person.

Here are some listening pointers that will enhance the interaction, communication, relationship—and create better teamwork.

Scenario: A younger, less experienced coworker wants to share her ideas about ways her team can help the new client. What type of listening style should we adopt?

1. Make listening the sole task. 

Maybe we have an important email only half-composed, and as a result, only give this colleague part of an ear while finishing it in our head.

Or maybe this coworker’s ideas have been duds in the past, so we have already prejudged their merit.

Whenever we let our mind wander away from the coworker, the present moment and her words, we are not really listening.

Rather than multitask, we need to look her in the eyes while she’s talking, and also make an effort not to think about what we want to say before she’s finished.

2. Take it in, without reacting.

We may feel that we know way more than this coworker, so we want to say something like,

“Before you go on, we’ve already tried these things and we’ve already decided to go in a completely different direction.”

That may be true, but we need to hear her out.

She may have a nuanced approach that we didn’t think of. Even if she doesn’t, tactics like interrupting her, offering unsolicited advice or playing the devil’s advocate undermine openness and trust.

She can learn the business easily, but she can’t regain a sense of trust and a willingness to take a risk with us if we shut her down now.

3. Expand the conversation by asking questions.

If we want to improve the level of discourse on our team, we can start with this coworker.

We can indicate that we genuinely want to hear more. Ask questions to further her thinking, not to corner her or build our own rebuttal.

We can say things such as, “Tell me more,” or “I want to understand how XYZ fits with our current strategy with this client.”

With this type of response, we are accomplishing two things: encouraging her to participate wholeheartedly in the group project, and opening ourselves up to the possibilities of learning new and valuable ideas.

4. Paraphrase the main points. 

Paraphrasing is a good way to see if one understands what someone else has said.

We do this by sorting through what we hear and locating what we perceive to be the main points. We can state what we think the essence is, and ask this coworker to correct and refine what we have said.

Listening so well that we can repeat back what’s been said is a fantastic skill to get good at, one that will be useful in all aspects of our business relationships.

It also helps the speaker correct misunderstandings, so the two of us are on the same page.

Finally, it is very reassuring to the speaker that she’s being heard and valued.

After even such a seemingly inconsequential interaction with a coworker in a scenario such as this, be sure to thank her for sharing her ideas. Give her praise for taking the initiative.

Now, we can get back to that pressing email we put aside, knowing that the discussion break we just had was highly productive and valuable for our team.

Want to find out more about attitudes and reactions that may affect teamwork effectiveness? Take a quick self-quiz here, and then try the coping strategies designed to address them.


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Author: Jude Bijou MA, MFT

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor:Renee Picard 

Photo: Jonathan Powell/Flickr

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Jude Bijou MA, MFT