An old fashioned microphone
An old fashioned microphone
#listening #creativitylisteningbetter

The Need for Active Listening in the Zoom Era

Paul Kiernan

Good listening, often called active listening, is the key to strong communication. A good listener takes in all the information and can receive and interpret the information given to them.

The good news is the pandemic, for now, seems to have dissipated, and life is getting back to some semblance of normal. The bad news is that some pandemic hangovers are still hanging on. One such cling-on is the zoom meeting.

Most of us accepted the zoom meeting and even made friends with it because we believed it was only for a limited time. At some point, we thought, this mishegas will be done, and we can go back to conference rooms, chatting in the hall, hanging by the water cooler, and things will make sense once again.

For better or worse, we are not returning to offices, conference rooms, hall chatting, and water coolers; instead, we’re staying solidly in the land of the zoom meeting. We’re still working from home, still facing challenges, some old, some new, but challenges nonetheless.

Although we’ve been doing it for a while, some may still be operating under the ‘this too shall pass' mindset and haven’t entirely embraced the zoom culture. This mindset is robbing us of all the goodies offered by Zoom and keeping us from achieving great communication. This article will examine one aspect of the zoom meeting that can always use improvement: listening.

What is Good Listening

Good listening, often called active listening, is the key to strong communication. A good listener takes in all the information and can receive and interpret the information given to them. This is an essential soft skill without which your communication chain breaks down and everything falls apart.

We all appreciate when someone listens to us, it makes us feel heard, understood, and important. With that in mind, ask yourself, am I a good listener? That’s an excellent question to ask yourself before going into any meeting. But how do you know for sure? Ask yourself if you do any of the following,

  • Often interrupt others when they are talking
  • Talk when others are talking, talking over them
  • Frequently ask people to repeat themselves
  • Simply listen for a break in the conversation, not the conversation, to throw your voice in
  • Allow your feelings toward the speaker to interfere with your listening ability

If you answered yes or recognized your behavior here, you probably need to pay attention to your listening skills.

Active listening

A boy in mid air on a skateboard in a seaside skate park

When we talk about listening as related to business, we want to stress the importance of active listening. So, what does this mean?

Active listening means your attention is on the speaker; you’re listening with your ears to the speaker's words and tone. But you’re also listening with your eyes to the body language. Is body language communicating something different from verbal language? If so, why and what does that mean? You need to be present and engaged fully, actively listening, to understand the entire bit of communication you’re faced with.

Passive listening is something you do when you’re listening to a conversation, but at the same time, you’re texting or playing games on your phone. Your attention is divided; thus, you’re not actively listening; you’re actively doing something else.

Zoom requires better active listening

Although zoom allows us to connect with folks all over the planet, it has also removed one of the main tools we all use for active listening, body language. On most zoom calls, we’re a series of talking heads on the screen; this removes about 85% of body language, which limits the extent to which we can fully listen.

Now on a zoom call, you need to up your active listening game. The best way to do this is to prioritize the zoom meeting. This means you’ll have to drop the idea that you can use a zoom call to multitask. You cannot. Technology is forcing us to focus on and listen more actively than ever.

Because we cannot see entire bodies, our ears have to do the work of two senses. Now, you’re not only listening to words, but you’ve got to focus more on tone and delivery. You cannot see people crossing their arms, so you have to hear that in the voice, and you can if you actively listen.

The voice is connected to the body

Ask any singer, actor, or dancer, and they’ll tell you the voice and body work harmoniously together. If the body is distressed, it can be heard in the voice. If the body is free and easy moving, you can also hear that in the voice.

This goes for emotions as well. If a person is angry, their body will react a certain way, which will be reflected in the voice.

So, knowing that the body and the voice are connected and moving in sympathy together, you can listen more actively, and you won’t miss not seeing the whole person on a zoom call too much. If you're listening, you can still hear changes in their body.

The benefits of active listening

A young couple snuggling looking at a laptop

Hearing is one of the five senses, and those senses allow us to interpret the environment, make choices, seek help, and more. These things happen to us automatically. We don’t have to wake up and turn on the five senses. We may need to enhance them with glasses or hearing aids, but we don’t have to turn a key or pull a chord to get them going. They are there at all times.

Here’s the rub, there is a difference between hearing and listening.

As the good folks at Miriam Webster show us, hearing is defined as “the process, function, or power of perceiving a sound.” While listening is defined as “to hear something with thoughtful attention.” The difference is that hearing is a reflex, and listening is an active choice.

There is no doubt that listening is essential, if only to be polite; however, it does have other benefits.

Reduces misunderstandings

Misunderstaangis arise from poor communication, which is rooted in poor listening skills. Misunderstandings cause confusion and could also cost your business time, money, and clients. Improve listening skills and see a reduction in misunderstandings.

Builds empathy

This certainly applies to active listening or whole-body listening. Watching a speaker's face and seeing their expressions will give you an idea of the emotion behind what’s being said, and you should try to empathize with the speaker so that you’re on the same page communication-wise. Being empathetic takes concentration, but it gives you a fully listening stance.

Removes judgment

When actively listening to someone, you’re focused on the words, the meaning, and how to do something with the information being given. That razor focus doesn’t allow judgment to creep in; you’re too concentrated on listening to judge. Removing judgment will enable you to hear fully, understand better, and make stronger connections.

Builds better relationships

If you’re actively listening to your customers, you have a better chance of fixing exactly what needs to be fixed when they have complaints. Often, customer service reps are just going through the motions of referencing a script they have been told to memorize, and they see every complaint as the same. This is not great customer service.

When actively listening to your customers, not just when they complain, you have a better chance of building a lasting relationship. That type of relationship is invaluable in this age of social media.

Likewise, suppose you’re actively listening to your colleagues. In that case, there will be less misunderstanding, and closer relationships can be formed because people gravitate toward those who respect and listen to them.

Increase productivity

If you’re actively listening, you will encounter fewer misunderstandings, resulting in fewer mistakes, which cuts down on the blame game. It also cuts down on the time and energy needed to go back and fix all the errors that come from not listening. The time you once used correcting misunderstandings can be applied to moving forward productively.

Actively listen on zoom

The tops of two red British phone boxes

As we now know, zoom is here to stay. So, your choices are limited. You can keep doing what you’ve been doing on zoom, struggle, get frustrated, and fight the technology. Or, you can use the technology and up your active listening game to get better results.

Listening is a soft skill everyone should be working to improve, not just at work but all through life. Listening slows us down, puts our attention on others, gives us deeper connections, and makes us more empathetic and productive.

How are your listening skills? Do they need help? Do you even know where to start? Call ThoughtLab; we’re authorities in creativity, a central component of that is active listening. We can help you listen better and hear more, which is excellent for you and your business.