Focus Matters: Listening Strategies for Engaging Conversations with Colleagues 

Every successful organisation depends on effective communication. And active listening is an essential component of this interaction which requires not just hearing what is being said, but also absorbing it completely and giving insightful feedback.

The importance of active listening

Active listening involves paying close attention to the speaker, understanding what they are saying, reacting effectively, and recalling the conversation. It’s an essential component of meaningful connection and can substantially raise team morale, increase problem-solving skills, and increase employee engagement.

We demonstrate respect for our co-workers’ opinions and ideas when we pay attention to what they have to say. This encouragement may help them feel more self-assured, more open, and help foster a working atmosphere that is more welcoming.

stratgies for active listening

To develop your active listening skills, consider these strategies:

maintain eye contact

Making eye contact is a powerful non-verbal indicator that is crucial to effective human communication. It is a characteristic of all body language that denotes interest, focus, and involvement. When you hold eye contact with the speaker, you’re sending a powerful message: “I am present, I am attentive, and I value what you have to say.” This silent affirmation encourages the speaker to continue, instilling a sense of validation and importance in them.

For example, consider a team meeting where a junior member is presenting an idea. If senior members and peers maintain eye contact with the presenter, it signals their interest in the proposal.

On the other hand, if attendees are distracted during a presentation by looking away, checking their phones, or generally not paying attention to the presenter, it may cause them to lose confidence or feel underappreciated. The presentation’s quality and the conversation that follows could be badly impacted by this.

It’s also important to remember that eye contact should be respectful and natural. The speaker can become uncomfortable and come off as hostile when someone is staring intently. The ideal stare is one that exudes attentiveness while being non-threatening.

Maintaining appropriate eye contact is a simple act but has profound implications. It not only facilitates open and respectful dialogue but also helps build trust and rapport among colleagues, contributing significantly to a harmonious and collaborative work environment.

Eye contact becomes even more important when working remotely. The way we interact nonverbally changes when video calls become the predominant form of communication. Looking directly into the camera while someone else is speaking simulates eye contact in this situation. Initially, this procedure could seem a little strange because our natural tendency is to focus on the person’s image on the screen. However, from the perspective of the other person, staring into the camera gives the impression of direct eye contact.

This virtual “eye contact” can significantly enhance the quality of remote communications. It sends a clear message to the speaker that they have your undivided attention, making them feel heard, understood, and valued. It helps to bridge the physical distance inherent in remote interactions and fosters a more personal connection, similar to an in-person conversation.

employ non-verbal cues

Non-verbal cues, also known as body language, are a pivotal component of interpersonal communication. These silent signals can often express our feelings and attitudes more accurately than spoken words. Utilising nods, smiles, and other non-verbal gestures can significantly enrich the dialogue, demonstrating your engagement and understanding. A nod during a conversation is a universal gesture of agreement or comprehension. It silently communicates, “I understand what you’re saying.” For instance, when a colleague is detailing a complex project plan, your nod can affirm that you comprehend their explanation, encouraging them to proceed with confidence.

Smiling conveys friendliness and receptiveness. A genuine smile can put the speaker at ease, promoting honesty and openness in the conversation. If a team member is recounting a challenging work experience, your empathetic smile can provide an unspoken reassurance, enabling them to express their emotions fearlessly.

Additional non-verbal cues such as an open body posture (uncrossed arms and legs), leaning slightly towards the speaker, or subtly mirroring their actions, can further indicate your active participation and empathy. These cues demonstrate that you are not just physically present in the conversation but emotionally invested as well.

When working remotely, these non-verbal cues become even more critical. While we may lack the physical proximity, we can still effectively communicate our engagement and understanding through our body language on video calls. By consciously employing these cues during remote conversations, we can foster a more engaging and empathetic virtual communication environment.

An example of non-verbal cues while working remotely: During a remote one-on-one with your manager, they’re explaining some changes to company policy. To show your active involvement and understanding, you can lean slightly towards the camera, which signals interest. You can also nod at key points to indicate that you’re following along.

Microsoft places a strong focus on active listening as part of its communication and leadership training programs. They encourage employees to use non-verbal cues, paraphrasing, and asking insightful questions to ensure a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives. Active listening is also a crucial skill for their managers to create a supportive and inclusive work environment.

interpret and condense

Interpreting the speaker’s points by restating them in your own terminology is a potent method to confirm that you’ve accurately grasped their message. This technique, known as paraphrasing, involves more than mere repetition; it’s your personal rendition of the communicated idea. For instance, if a team member presents a detailed project roadmap, you could respond with, “If I’m understanding you correctly, the initial stage entails…”. This not only demonstrates your active engagement but also gives the speaker an opportunity to confirm your understanding or rectify any misunderstandings.

In contrast, summarising is about distilling the main ideas from the discussion into a succinct recap. For example, after an extensive brainstorming session, you might say, “To encapsulate our dialogue, we’ve collectively decided on…”. This brief overview helps to reinforce your understanding of the conversation’s key points and enhances your ability to recall these details later.

Both summarising and paraphrasing are used in communication as feedback loops. They increase the likelihood of understanding, reduce the possibility of misunderstanding, and make talks more fruitful and interesting. These methods are especially important for virtual employees since they frequently rely primarily on verbal communication because there are no physical indications available to them. By using these strategies, you may encourage a more cooperative and understanding communication climate among your remote team members by demonstrating respect for the speaker’s ideas.

Avoid interruptions

The urge to interject or complete the speaker’s sentences can be compelling, particularly when you believe you’ve anticipated their next point. However, yielding to this temptation can disrupt the flow of conversation and potentially undermine the speaker’s confidence.

Interruptions can convey a sense of impatience or disinterest, which may discourage the speaker from fully expressing their thoughts. For instance, if a team member is sharing a new idea but is frequently interrupted, they may feel that their input isn’t valued. This could lead to them holding back on sharing innovative ideas in the future, hindering the team’s potential for creativity and problem-solving.

Active awareness is necessary to resist the urge to interrupt. This involves actively listening to the speaker, restraining automatic responses, and providing space for them to express themselves fully. Use non-verbal cues like nodding or maintaining eye contact to show your interest and encourage them to continue.

For instance, in a virtual meeting, wait for the speaker to finish their point before adding your own. Make a note of it so you may mention it after they finish speaking if you have anything to add. This straightforward technique can greatly enhance distant communication.

In conversations, understanding is just as important as responding. We demonstrate respect for the speaker’s opinion and ensure a more thorough comprehension of their point of view by refraining from interruptions and being patient. Even in a remote context, this practise not only improves our talks but also promotes a more courteous and welcoming work environment.

ask insightful questions

The art of asking insightful questions is a critical aspect of active listening. Thoughtful and well-structured questions not only help to clarify any ambiguities but also signal your interest in the speaker’s ideas. Moreover, they can stimulate the speaker to delve into greater detail, fostering a more profound and enlightening conversation.

For example, suppose a colleague is outlining a new strategy for improving team productivity. You might find certain aspects of their proposal unclear. Instead of nodding along, you could ask an insightful question like, “Could you please elaborate on how the new strategy will affect our current workflow?” This question serves multiple purposes. It demonstrates that you’re actively engaged in the discussion, seeks clarification on a point of confusion, and encourages the speaker to provide more detail.

It’s essential to phrase your questions respectfully and constructively. They should serve to foster dialogue and understanding, not to challenge or undermine the speaker’s opinion. A question framed negatively can make the speaker defensive and hinder open communication. By asking insightful and respectful questions, we can enhance our understanding, show genuine interest in the speaker’s perspective, and promote deeper, more engaging conversations.

Google is known for its emphasis on fostering a culture of open communication and active listening. They encourage employees at all levels to actively listen to each other’s ideas, provide feedback, and engage in constructive dialogue. Regular team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and town halls are some of the forums where active listening is encouraged to promote innovation and collaboration.

extend insightful and constructive feedback

An integral component of active listening involves extending insightful and constructive feedback. This goes beyond mere agreement or disagreement with the speaker’s points. By offering well-thought-out comments, suggestions, or observations, you not only demonstrate your active involvement in the conversation but also contribute to a solution-oriented dialogue.

Your feedback should be framed positively and respectfully. Rather than focusing on personal traits or delivering outright criticism, concentrate on the ideas and arguments presented. Ask clarifying questions if needed, propose alternative viewpoints, or highlight potential areas for improvement. This approach fosters an open exchange of ideas and promotes a collaborative problem-solving environment. Remember, the goal of providing feedback is not to impose your own ideas but to encourage mutual growth and understanding. It’s about building on the discussion, making it richer, and driving it forward towards meaningful conclusions.

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear company, is known for its unique company culture, which emphasises environmental sustainability and work-life balance. Part of their culture involves active listening to employees’ concerns, ideas, and feedback. They hold regular feedback sessions, where employees are encouraged to express their thoughts openly, and managers actively listen to address their needs and suggestions.


Developing active listening as a skill requires practice and constant refinement. However, the impact it has on workplace communication, collaboration, and overall employee engagement is invaluable. By fostering a culture of active listening, organisations can cultivate more meaningful interactions, stronger team dynamics, and a more empowering work environment.

Author: Rosie Buckley – Freelancer & Bookworm

Photo credit: Fauxels

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