Active Listening and Active Inquiry: Effective Supervisory Tools for Managers Program Recap

Thanks to Aaron Chavis, Strategic Advisor from The EmPathic Institute for a powerful and interactive presentation on active listening and active inquiry.

There are common misconceptions about active listening and its role as an effective tool for managers.  First, there is very little validity in the use of active listening; its much easier and just as effective as telling someone what to do and leave it at that.  Second, active listening is not tangible and therefore cannot be demonstrated.  However, as you delve into the reasons behind the use of active listening and inquiry, as well as the practical applications for it, it is easy to see how and why these are myths.

So what is active listening?  According to Skillsyouneed.com, “active listening involves listening with all senses.  As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening – otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.  Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.”

Active listening and inquiry is used across many fields, including counseling, training, and conflict resolution.  The use of active listening and inquiry can have a significant impact on yourself and others, including:

  • Earning the trust and respect of your peers
  • Understanding issues and formulating better solutions
  • Diffusing conflict
  • Developing better relationships with subordinates and supervisors at all levels
  • Enforcing a mission driven work approach
  • Managing change effectively

Active listening requires practice and a commitment to working with another party to solve problems, which can include job duties, job performance, work environment, or personal issues.  Active listening also requires us to leave behind our preconceptions or biases and work with the other party to find out what are the real issues, as well as potential solutions.  An easy way to demonstrate active listening is to periodically paraphrase or summarize what the other party is saying to ensure that everyone is on the same page and clearly define and understand the issue/issues at stake.  On the flip side, active inquiry requires the manager/supervisor to engage with the other party in terms of asking questions to solicit clear understanding of all topics being discussed and pave a pathway for improving relations, solving problems, or future follow-up.

Active listening is appropriate in the workplace when:

  • Opportunity to bring clarity to an issue
  • Relationships need improvement up, down, or across the organization
  • Teamwork or productivity needs improvement
  • Parties are open to learn from anyone and anything
  • An agreement of intent in the session

Active listening should not be used in the workplace when:

  • You are distracted or unable to pay attention, such as completing another task
  • You have already passed judgement on a person or situation
  • There is a simple answer to a question or something that needs a simple fix
  • You are stacking questions (more than 1) without giving the other party time to process and respond to each one
  • Checklisting – prior set of questions

Active listening and active inquiry is designed to be an open dialogue where both parties have equal footing to discuss ideas openly.   When it comes to active inquiry, there are 6 important questions to ask in order to keep the conversation productive and moving towards some form of closure:

  • What would be the most valuable outcome you can achieve in our session?
  • What are your ideas to find solutions?
  • What are your insights so far?
  • What would you like to discuss now?
  • What are the next steps?
  • What was most valuable for you today?

By taking the time and effort to become invested in the other party’s issues, concerns, or thoughts, and working through those together, positive outcomes or change will be achieved.  For more information on active listening, please download a copy of the presentation at https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Active-Listening-and-Inquiry.pdf.  Also, please review the Supervisor’s Meeting Prep Checklist for Success to ensure you have productive meetings and discussions by preparing your questions and your mindset ahead of time.  For questions, please contact Aaron Chavis at empathicinstituteinfo@gmail.com.