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What is active listening, and why should you use it at work?

Active listening is the process of fully engaging with someone during a conversation by paying careful attention, asking thoughtful questions, and taking the time to understand what’s being said. This is easier said than done, as active listening requires an immense amount of focus. But investing in this skill is well worth the effort, as you’ll see in our post. 

Why active listening is an essential workplace skill

You may be wondering: Don’t we practice active listening every day? Not necessarily. It’s important to recognise that there’s a huge difference between hearing and listening. The former is a passive process, while the latter is active. We’ll illustrate the difference with an example. 

Let’s say you’re having a conversation with a colleague about an urgent project. When you’re speaking, it’s clear they’re not paying attention – they’re constantly glancing at their phone and not making eye contact. Your teammate also frequently interjects with their own thoughts without acknowledging yours. While this colleague may hear what you say, it’s clear they’re not actively listening. 

Now let’s say you’re having the same conversation with a different team member. This person gives you verbal cues to make it clear they’re engaged with you. They also give you the space to speak and follow up with thoughtful questions to make sure they understand what you’re saying. This is active listening in action.

Seeing these two examples side-by-side, it’s clear why active listening is an essential skill for the workplace. By practicing active listening, you can: 

  • Form better relationships. When you take the time to listen to your colleagues, you strengthen your relationship with them. Having a solid foundation like this makes it easier to collaborate, communicate, and work through problems.
  • Position yourself as a leader. Being a good leader and being a good listener go hand-in-hand. When you can demonstrate that you possess active listening skills, people are more likely to respect you and turn to you for guidance. 
  • Improve your problem-solving abilities. In every role, you’re going to encounter obstacles. How well you overcome these hurdles has a lot to do with your ability to understand the problem – and this can only be accomplished by actively listening to the inputs of your team members. 

5 recommendations to practice active listening

Now that you understand the importance of active listening in the workplace, let’s discuss tactics to incorporate them into your day-to-day role. Here are a few of our favorite recommendations. 

1. Approach the conversation with an open mind

When you enter a conversation with a rigid mindset, it’s unlikely to be productive. You’ll be so focused on getting your own point across that it’ll be difficult to pay attention to what the other person says. Instead, try to approach every discussion with an open mind and be prepared to change your mind. This will make the process of active listening much more manageable. 

2. Use verbal cues

Paying attention to verbal cues is critical to active listening. For instance, you may notice that your colleague frowns when talking about a decision made by the leadership team. This is an excellent opportunity to ask a follow-up question to see what’s bothering them and better understand their situation. 

Similarly, you want to provide verbal cues as well. Nodding, smiling, and making eye contact are all great ways to show your conversation partner that you’re engaged with what they’re saying. This type of body language also makes whoever you’re speaking with feel more comfortable, increasing the chances that they’ll be transparent with you.

3. Ask clarifying questions

A great way to strengthen your active listening skills is to ask thoughtful follow-up questions. By doing so, you’re signalling to the other person that you’re interested in the conversation and are eager to hear the speaker’s message. These clarifying questions also present a great opportunity to deepen your understanding of the discussion. 

4. Be present

We’ve all had the experience of being part of a conversation where we excitedly wait for the perfect moment to interject with an opinion or fun fact. While this is totally normal, it can take away from the experience of active listening. When you’re busy planning what you’re going to say, you’re likely not paying attention to the other person and won’t absorb the information they’re sharing. 

5. Paraphrase

Another great technique for active listening is to paraphrase what the other person is saying. This gives you an opportunity to confirm that you’ve fully understood the message your colleague is trying to convey. If you’re not sure how to do this, try using a phrase like “what I’m hearing from our conversation is that…” And follow up with “am I understanding you correctly?” to give the other person an opportunity to make clarifications. 

Active listening is a valuable skill that can be used both in and out of the workplace. With enough practice, you’ll start to experience the benefits, from forming stronger relationships to improving your problem-solving skills. Use our recommendations to practice, strengthen, and fine-tune your active listening skills.

Determine your financial wellbeing score with these five questions

A simple and easy way to start cultivating financial wellbeing is with a self-assessment to determine your financial wellbeing score. Not only is this a super way to review your finances, it’s also an opportunity to take stock of your financial situation and make positive changes (if needed). Given the current financial climate, now is the opportune time to undergo a financial health check. In the March 2023 quarter, all five Living Cost Indexes (LCIs) in Australia experienced rises, including Health, Housing, Food and non-alcoholic beverages, and Insurance and financial services. Medical and hospital services saw a 4.2% increase due to higher fees and private health insurance premiums. Electricity and gas prices rose by 14.3% due to higher wholesale prices, while food prices increased due to weather-related impacts and higher input costs. Put simply – it’s an expensive time to be alive, so let’s dive in and determine your financial wellbeing score.

What is financial wellbeing?

While there’s no strict definition, the term ‘financial wellbeing’ is often used to describe a state that includes being able to meet your financial obligations, having enough financial freedom to enjoy life, being in control of your money, and having solid financial security. ANZ defines strong financial wellbeing as ‘having enough money to meet your needs now and in the future.’

When looking for signs of financial wellbeing in your day-to-day life, it’s often a good thing if you can stay on top of your bills and debt, have enough money put aside for emergencies, and keep extra cash on hand so you can plan for important future expenses, like a house deposit or education expenses.

The state of financial wellbeing in Australia

While 60% of employees are content with their current compensation, “financial pressure” was found to be the most stressful factor in a survey of 1,500 Australian workers commissioned by Flare. It is not shocking, given the state of the economy right now. In particular, housing costs are cited by 77% of workers as a source of moderate to high stress1. Now is as good a time as any to prioritise your financial health, as the rising cost of housing is unlikely to ease pressure anytime soon. 

Knowing your level of financial wellbeing enables you to better understand your saving and spending behaviours, giving you a money snapshot that can be used to make adjustments.

What’s more, in addition to small tweaks to spending and saving, assessing where you’re at in terms of financial wellbeing on a regular basis can help you break bad money habits and assist you to reach your financial goals faster.

RELATED: Tax savings – how can your car help?

What questions should I ask?

When it comes to assessing where you sit in terms of financial wellbeing, one common method is to ask yourself a set of questions, and then give yourself a rating on each.

One of the most well regarded, and quickest to use, Aussie financial wellbeing surveys asks respondents to answer from 4 (completely) to 0 (not at all) on the following five questions. See how you go on the following:

Once you’ve determined your score for each, multiply the total by five, and this will give you your overall financial wellbeing score. A score of 0 to 22.5 means you’re “having trouble” on financial wellbeing, 25 to 47.5 means you’re “just coping”, 50 to 75 means you’re “getting by”, while 77.5 to 100 indicates you’re “going great”, and is the top category.

Thankfully, if you didn’t score as high as you’d like, or just want more financial peace of mind, financial wellbeing can move up or down depending on the decisions you make.

Whatever the result, you can feel positive that a financial self-assessment is the first step to better financial wellbeing and getting your personal finances headed in the right direction.

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Information provided in this article is of a general nature only and we have not taken your personal financial objectives, situation or needs into account. We recommend you consider if you need to seek professional financial advice before making any financial decisions.

1 Flare National Employee Benefits Index, 2023.