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Being all ears in the workplace

Written by: Vet Times Jobs
Published on: 19 Mar 2024

Listen and Learn

Image © Dzmitry / Adobe Stock

It has been said that the art of conversation isn’t so much about talking, but, instead, about being able to listen and absorb what is being said. And that’s never been truer in the workplace, with individuals now communicating more and more electronically.

Talking is good. The written word can be easy to misinterpret if poor grammar and punctuation is used. In contrast, talking and listening makes it easier to discuss a given matter with individuals picking up on cues that demonstrate how another feels about an issue.

But as in other areas of our lives, we often think that we’re better than we are in reality – and the art of conversation is one such area where most could improve.

Listening is essential if we are to get on with colleagues, handle clients properly and to be effective in our roles. But to be good at this we have to be “active listeners” and show the other person that we’re giving them our full attention as they express themselves.

The following tips aim to enhance the conversations you have – at work and elsewhere – to make the other person feel valued.

Look and listen

In-person communication necessitates, by definition, holding face-to-face conversations with eye contact. However, it’s possible to intimidate another by holding too much eye contact. A workaround is to change focus to look at different parts of the other person’s face. Occasionally breaking eye contact by looking away, but not to a watch, clock or computer screen, is another technique. It’s essential, however, not to look bored or that you want to close the conversation down.

But while it’s key to get eye contact right, it’s just as important to recognise that we can look hostile or intimidating by the way we hold ourselves. Good body language can make all the difference – crossed arms and legs look defensive, while to look open to ideas, and that we are listening, we need an open posture. This means leaning forwards, not backwards, and tilting the head towards the colleague.

In any debate there are two sides to the story and while you need to show that you’re listening – paying attention to what the other person is saying – you also need to be able to read their body language as they might read yours.

This means reading their facial expressions, listening to the tone of their voice as well as noting any gestures; this may tell you just as much as what is being said.

So, consider how they are holding themselves. Are they in a closed position with arms and legs crossed? Are their eyes darting around? Are they grimacing or smiling? Are they agitated or relaxed when they speak?

Keep the conversation going by nodding, smiling occasionally and saying “yes” or the like as it shows that you’re listening. Don’t fidget – you need to show that you’re attentive and interested.

Office duo

Image © deagreez / Adobe Stock

Keep quiet

The art of conversation isn’t so much about being the person who talks the most, but being the person who listens. This means if the other person is talking then you need to stay quiet – without interrupting – until there’s a natural gap or you’ve been asked a question.

Interrupting can be very frustrating for the other person and suggests that you are neither interested in their point of view nor listening to what they’re saying. Give your brain time to take in what has been said and equally what you want to say. Slowing down also helps the other person by giving them time to take in what has been said to them – silence can be golden.

Remember too that if the conversation involves, say, a complaint, that it’s better to let the other person vent their spleen and outline what it is that is bothering them without interruption. They’ll come to a natural end when they start to calm down. At that point you can give your perspective, but try to be unemotional in your responses. Don’t assume you know the direction that the conversation will take – just listen. And if the conversation wanders, find a way to bring it back to the main point.

Let them think of solutions

Granted that there will be times in an employment relationship when the boss has to talk to a subordinate and give them the message. But in other situations, listening and being supportive will yield greater results than imposing a solution. Indeed, letting the other person find the answer – assuming, of course, that it’s acceptable – will enhance your standing in the eyes of the other person as they’ll feel that they have an element of control and have been listened to. Further, if it’s a matter that requires advice, you may not be best placed to give it.

And allowing colleagues to share solutions to common problems is a great way to enhance personal worth.

Don’t lose track

Lastly, it’s very easy in a busy workplace to be distracted by other goings on and a mid-conversation distraction could mean losing the thread of what has been said. One way to combat this is to mentally repeat what the other person has said as they say it. Similarly, try to shut out distractions. And as before, don’t look at a watch, phone or computer screen. You can stay more mentally engaged – while showing interest in what the other person is saying – by asking questions. This not only shows that you’ve been listening, but may help clarify what has been said.

Of course, if you genuinely haven’t understood the point, then you should clarify when the opportunity arises, without interrupting. Do so with open questions that use words such as how, what and why.

Use these questions to summarise what the other person has said to show both interest and to demonstrate that you’ve understood the point; this also gives the other person a chance to correct you if you’ve misunderstood.


It’s very easy to become self-centred in a conversation. But by showing empathy while actively listening to others you’ll go a long way and the workplace will become more harmonious and productive.