Listening: The Surprising Key to Coaching Teams in the Workplace

by | Individual & Team Performance

Healthy communication creates vibrant, connected workplaces and high-performing teams. But communication isn’t all about choosing the right words. In fact, listening is almost always more important than speaking.

Why? Your responses may miss the mark if you haven’t heard what an employee is trying to tell you. You could even make a situation worse or create resentment in your team.

The most effective leaders employ mindful listening skills when coaching teams in the workplace to ensure people feel heard, valued, and respected. These conversations allow leaders to respond to their employees in ways that build connections and strengthen relationships.

Let’s talk about engagement. The average engagement level of employees worldwide is just 20%, according to Gallup. Imagine how improving the listening skills of your leaders could affect the productivity of your team. Engagement also affects profitability–companies with the highest rates of employee engagement are 21% more profitable than others.

Companies that create opportunities for their people leaders to develop and practice mindful listening skills benefit from improved performance and better workplace dynamics. When critical issues are resolved swiftly and effectively, everyone comes out ahead.

Empowering your leaders to use mindful listening can be vital to resolving problems that hold your team members back from top performance.

What is mindful listening?

Mindful listening means giving your full attention to the person in front of you and focusing on their contribution before responding. Only with this level of listening can you understand not just their words, but the meaning behind them.

Employees see leaders who can mindfully listen to their concerns as curious, more empathetic, and more approachable–all very powerful when building positive relationships. Your employees can sense when you are actively engaged in the conversation and not just rushing to speak or offer advice.

When coaching teams in the workplace, you must actively listen to people so that when you respond to them or offer solutions, they feel understood. Mindful listening can be a crucial part of building a culture of respect in the workplace, plus it can also boost workplace morale, job satisfaction, and staff retention.

Leadership performance coaching helps us make the connection between job satisfaction and job performance. Leaders who use mindful listening skills can encourage their teams to work toward positive individual and team performance results.

What happens when leaders don’t listen?

Building mindful listening skills in your leadership team is crucial to team performance and is a proactive employee retention strategy. People don’t stay in jobs where they don’t feel heard. Creating an environment that nurtures active listening helps build employee loyalty and reduces the chance you’ll lose valuable team members to disengagement.

However, many leaders struggle to listen mindfully to others, even in coaching conversations where they know they need to get to the root of issues to solve them. Instead, they might appear to be listening but in truth are distracted and caught up in their own thoughts.

It may be human nature, but distracted listening is a relationship killer. Leaders who regularly miss the point and rush to give advice are often seen as know-it-alls by their staff and not seen as valuable sources of help. Poor listening impairs decision-making and execution, which can affect the performance of your entire team.

So what happens when leaders aren’t actively listening to their teams? They might dismiss concerns, miss the significance of small details, or offer blanket advice that feels impersonal or misaligned (you may have heard these referred to as “band-aid solutions.”) Each time it happens, an employee notices and the relationship suffers.

If it happens often enough, and with multiple team members, soon nobody will confide in that leader or rely on them for meaningful solutions. Even issues that seem to improve end up resurfacing later. When that disconnect happens, people get frustrated, stressed, or anxious about work–only now they’ve already decided their leader doesn’t have their back.

5 ways you can listen mindfully when coaching teams in the workplace

People leaders need vital leadership coaching skills like mindful listening to help employees feel heard, valued, and supported at work. Creating a culture of respect in the workplace means trusting that your teams want to do their best work and committing to helping them do so.

Only when leaders can genuinely connect with their teams will they be able to understand the issues faced by their employees. Let’s look at five ways your people leaders can offer mindful listening to your teams.

1. Remove distractions

Mindful listening can only happen when you can give someone your full attention. To help boost your ability to focus, try to choose a time and place for conversations where you’re less likely to be interrupted.

If someone asks to speak with you when you’re busy, try to wrap up your current task so you can engage fully in the conversation.

2. Stop the internal mind chatter

We’ve all experienced “monkey mind,” when our brains are full of details beyond the immediate conversation.

It’s human nature to get distracted, but you can practice active listening skills that will make you more mindful when coaching employees. Try to hear them out, wait for them to signal that they’ve finished, and each time you sense your mind wandering, come back to the person in front of you.

3. Focus on the other person

Even experienced leaders can get lost in thought when listening to others speak. You might be listening but also feeling the need to have an answer ready, or helpful advice. This habit shifts the focus from the person speaking to your role in the conversation, causing disconnection.

Stay present, listen to what they say, and observe their body language. They may be raising one issue but quietly be concerned about another. Staying focused will help you gather the information you need to genuinely understand.

4. Ask questions to clarify

Once your employee has had a chance to express their concerns or share a problem with you, resist the urge to offer quick advice. Even on your busiest days, remember that fast answers are unlikely to solve real issues, meaning they’ll land in your lap again and again.

Allow people to finish speaking, then ask questions to help understand what they’ve shared. With a few thoughtful queries, you may have a much better idea of how you can respond in a way that is genuinely helpful to your employee.

5. Reflect on what you heard

The best people leaders focus on effectively coaching teams in the workplace through clear communication and insightful solutions.

Before offering advice or a solution in coaching conversations, consider what you heard in the conversation, what you observed, and how the employee answered your questions. Then work with your employee to solve their concern and move on to a lasting, positive outcome.

Creating a culture of leaders who listen

Developing coach-like leaders is key to helping your employees feel valued so they can do their best work. These initiatives are powerful and proactive employee retention strategies that help you keep your best talent.

Leadership performance coaching requires leaders to listen and respond appropriately to their team’s needs to create results. Only with a deep understanding of the issues that must be resolved can your teams perform at the top level.

With the insights gained from mindful listening, leaders can make clear decisions that drive better performance from every team member.

Curious how mindful listening from your leadership team can help resolve issues and support your team’s top performance? Book a discovery call with me today to discuss mindful listening and other critical elements of Coach-Like Leadership.