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Health and Harmony in the Workplace: Are You Really Listening?

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With so many distractions from cell phones, social media, to mental clutter, are we really tuning in to listen? Are we listening to ourselves, our co-workers, and customers?

Managing Our Thoughts

Research claims we have up to 70,000 thoughts a day with a thought about every 1.2 seconds. Our minds are busy thinking about what we have done, what we need to do, judging ourselves, a situation, or another— all distracting us from being fully present. Many of us tend to tune out messages that differ from our way of thinking or we are preparing a response. It’s impossible to plan what to say and listen effectively at the same time.

If you find yourself criticizing, blaming, interrogating, preaching, interrupting, multi-tasking, stealing the focus, or giving advice without being asked, you are not really listening. Effective listening is an art and takes practice. It requires energy, focus, and undivided attention to truly tune in. Deep listening is like giving someone a psychological hug—it feels good being heard and understood.

Effective Listening

Grace Marks

Effective listening is putting your thoughts and opinions aside and actively seeking understanding. Listening to understand is different from listening to prove a point or win an argument. It’s more than just listening to the words but listening to the underlying message or meaning, and observing nonverbal cues.

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Good listeners have a huge advantage, especially in business. They have the ability to engage customers in conversation so they feel heard and understood, especially in difficult customer situations. If a customer feels someone really understands what they want and need, they are much more forgiving when a customer situation goes wrong.

Ask yourself whether you tend to listen “light”—listening just to the words and preparing to speak, or do you use “real deal” listening—listening that picks up emotion and body language and seeks to understand. 

Listening Tips

In our busy and fast paced world, everyone’s listening skills can be improved. Here are some key listening tips. 

  • Remove all distractions—cell phone or television, and put down what you are reading and stop what you are doing.
  • Use cues to indicate that you are listening with eye contact (if appropriate), nodding or periodically using words like “yes”, “I see” or “I understand”, or even sounds like “hmmm”, or “uh huh.”
  • Show empathy by putting yourself in the speaker’s shoes and expressing that through your words, “I can understand why that was so challenging for you.”
  • Put your responses on hold and listen objectively even if the speaker has completely differing opinions. There is always something to learn from another’s perspective. 
  • Refrain from immediately jumping in with advice or opinions unless you are asked or have inquired whether they are interested in getting some feedback. 
  • Stop yourself from interrupting or changing the subject. Let speakers share their information at their own pace.
  • Clarify to understand. When stress goes up, communication goes down. Ask, “If I heard you correctly, you said..., or you want…” or “I thought I heard you say…is that right?”
  • Don’t rush in to fill the silence. We all speak and think at different rates so allow speakers to formulate their thoughts.
  • If you want to make sure you understand, reflect back to the speaker what you have heard especially in tense situations.
  • Know when to stop listening if the conversation turns negative such as gossip, or if a co-worker is taking a lot of your time chatting about unrelated work issues.
  • If you disagree with what the speaker is saying, wait until they are complete and then share your perspective.

Remember effective listening takes practice and it’s a gift we can all give each other—one of respect, appreciation, and kindness. 

Grace Marks, MPH, CPC, is a certified life coach, motivational speaker, and workplace makeover specialist with Native Empowerment: Solutions for Health and Harmony providing customized training programs for tribal organizations and businesses. If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to or visit