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The Art of Being a Good Listener: What All New Supervisors Should Know About Listening Skills

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 20 years in the public sector.

Christine McDade is an experienced human resources manager.

Listening to a disgruntled employee is very important for resolving workplace issues.

Listening to a disgruntled employee is very important for resolving workplace issues.

The Art of Good Listening

Sometimes, listening is underrated. While there is certainly a need to be able to think and speak on your feet, the art of being a good listener can at times be just what an employee needs from a supervisor. When an employee truly senses they have your time and attention, they will open up about their concerns and get to the heart of whatever matter is at hand. In addition, as any working relationship is, essentially, a relationship, giving an employee your undivided attention at crucial moments will assist in an important element of the relationship, trust.

New Supervisors:

When an employee shows up at the door of your office with a concern, consider the following:

  • Emotions may be running high for the employee. It will be important to listen through some of the emotions to get to the facts. Exercise patience as the employee explains the situation. For some of us, (not excluding "yours truly"), it may be challenging at times to listen to details that are obviously opinion and/or assumptions. Many employees will retell, and then relive a litany of events that have occurred in the past. By allowing the employee some time to voice their opinion to you, their supervisor, they will be able to unload some care or concern that might actually be solved simply by your time listening to them. When the time is right in the conversation, a supervisor can exercise appropriate empathy and give clear guidance to the employee on how to overcome the issue.
  • Be aware of nonverbal communication exchanged between you and the employee. As a supervisor, you can also be more effective in your listening by looking straight at the employee, keeping your arms down or at your side to avoid the desire to cross them. Be sure to forward your incoming calls to avoid interrupting the employee's discussion of the problem, and try not to look at your watch to avoid sending the verbal cue that you, the supervisor, is disinterested in what is being expressed to you.
  • Be patient and wait for the right time to speak. This employee has come to you for guidance or assistance in a matter that is of concern to them. Avoid interrupting or the urge to finish the person's sentence in order to speed along the conversation. Again, it might be hard to do, but patience is something to exercise in active, engaged listening. By listening to the concerns, you will know when it is time to interject your advice and support. Resist the notion that everyone around you handles challenges and workplace difficulties in the same way you do.

By giving your employee time and your uninterrupted attention, you will find that the employee will be appreciative and will likely be open to communicate with you on other occasions. Furthermore, it will provide insight into the problem with you directing them with questions and providing advice at timely moments in the conversation. A true leader will learn much from those who report to them from just listening to their concerns as well as their suggestions.

Good Listeners = Good Supervisors

So often, an employee with a concern just needs to be heard. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to be a good leader and model respectful listening with thoughtful replies as needed. Exercising good listening skills will demonstrate your commitment to see everyone succeed on your team. Spending time with employees for such occasions will build upon the trust in the working relationships that exist within your group. I have attended so many meetings with employees who have shared workplace concerns, and then thanked me for just listening. New supervisors will discover that good listening skills are an asset to being able to successfully lead the team. So...sh. Listen to your employees!


JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on July 08, 2012:

many of our communication methods is non-verbal. We may be saying one thing but our bodies are saying another. As supervisors, we need to be careful in vevery detail when we communicate. Also, Stephen Covey could not have said it better - Seek First to understand then to be understood. We fail to shut up and listen. This can cause more problems.

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