“I bet you were quiet at school” said the careers advisor, eyeing me sympathetically. I nodded in sad acceptance. “But”, she continued, her face now beaming, “I bet you listened to and acknowledged every word that was said to you”. And she was right.
As she spoke, my mind tracked through the years, back to primary school, secondary school, university and jobs in-between, where every round of feedback had included the advice ‘speak up more’. But this careers advisor made me realise that, at the cost of speaking, we often sacrifice listening. She allowed me to believe that quietness, and partnered with that, listening, is a rare but meaningful skill.
To capitalise on this trait, I chose to enter healthcare market research: because it allows me to combine my background in healthcare, with learning about and listening to fascinating experiences of a range of doctors, patients and payers on a near-daily basis.
So as market researchers, listening is clearly a critical part of what we do day in day out, whether through interviewing respondents, or absorbing transcripts – so more than most, we appreciate its importance. But I wonder; how often do we look at ourselves, our colleagues, and our clients with same level of scrutiny. In this age of distraction-through-technology, how much do we really listen in the workplace? Naturally it is difficult to measure – but Accenture’s 2015 #ListenLearnLead study1 found that while nearly all of the 3600 professionals interviewed consider themselves to be good listeners, two thirds (64%) reported that listening has become significantly more difficult in today’s digital world.
But why is it so important to listen in the workplace, and what do we actually mean by this? Numerous studies, for example a review by Human Resource Management International Digest in 20082, discussed how feeling valued is the best motivation for employers in the workplace. One major contributor to feeling valued is through feeling that we are being listened to. On Fortune magazine’s annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For”, many of the top companies are considered to be highly trustworthy and transparent – employees report that a huge component of that is through the company demonstrating that they are constantly listening and responding to employee needs3.
We know how to demonstrate ‘active listening’ with respondents, but we need to remember to carry that over to the workplace to show we are listening and therefore valuing our colleagues. Glassdoor, the company review site, discusses how employees want to be heard “especially when starting the conversation may seem like the hardest act on their end” 4. Open forums are an excellent platform for sharing views between senior and junior personnel, for example at HRW our Board holds regular ‘Board surgeries’ where employees can privately approach them. Any topic is welcomed, building trust and the feeling of support. We also hold ‘brainstorms’ for each proposal request, where people from all levels of seniority in the company can join and share their thoughts about different approaches in an accessible environment. Naturally, there is always room for improvement, but these open platforms for sharing are a good start.
Feeling valued is equally important for our clients as with our employees. HRW seek to do this in several ways: and one example is that we send out Client Satisfaction Questionnaires at the end of each project, offering clients an opportunity to provide numeric scores and open text for feedback. Another example is through striving to conduct face-to-face meetings over tele-conferences wherever possible: because so much of listening is through interpretation of body language and visual cues. It’s important for us to as act as true partners and build trust through listening: and we are constantly adapting to achieve this.
Clearly, in this digital age where we are surrounded by ‘noise’, it’s important to go back to basics and remember that the most elementary of human senses can result in increased engagement, motivation and trust. Being ‘quiet’ should not be underestimated; it should be valued.
By Lucy Wates