- In various contexts, good listening fosters social connections and enhances well-being.
- Feeling heard contributes to reduced loneliness and promotes feelings of autonomy.
- The benefits of good listening at work include improved trust, job performance, and reduced burnout.
- Good listening skills also benefit the person listening, enhancing self-esteem and feelings of competence.
When I first became a manager, I was advised by a trusted mentor–“Above all else, make the time to listen to your staff.” Whether over a cup of coffee, a designated “open-door” policy, or whatever approach resonates best, create the space to hear, understand, and respond to your team’s words.
The advice may sound simple. Still, as my years in team leadership roles have grown, I’ve realised that this principle can act as a bedrock of leadership. The time invested in listening to your team members pays untold dividends, fostering a culture of inclusion, mutual respect, and innovation.
But don’t just take my word for it. Research is increasingly stacking up to show that listening is a skill we would be wise to pay attention to when interacting with others (personal, professional, or otherwise).
Some examples of the benefits of listening include improved trust and well-being between the interacting partners. And positive outcomes at work–like enhanced job performance and reduced burnout–in work environments with a good listening culture. 1
To illustrate, one experiment examined the outcomes of employees’ perceptions of their supervisor’s listening skills.2
Across two studies, staff who perceived their supervisor to listen better showed lower emotional exhaustion at work. In other words, they were less likely to feel emotionally drained by their workplace.
The same employees were less likely to consider leaving their jobs. And more likely to demonstrate positive organisational citizenship behaviours. For instance, defending their organisation when other employees criticised it.
A hat-trick of workplace benefits by simply having a supervisor perceived to listen well.
The benefits of feeling heard don’t stop there. Good listening helps people feel more socially connected to others. One recent study found that high-quality listening, which conveys well-meaning attention and understanding, can help speakers reconnect after experiencing social rejection, reducing loneliness.3
The study involved five experiments with over 1600 participants. The researchers manipulated listening during observed and actual conversations using different methods.
For instance, in one experiment, the speaker shared an experience of social rejection with a listener. Notably, the listeners showed high or moderate listening quality. They either listened very well or an average amount.
To help make that a bit clearer: suppose you were in the high-listening group. In that case, the person listening would make eye contact, engage in head-nodding, lean toward you as you spoke, and convey interest with facial expressions and open-ended questions.
Conversely, in moderate listening, the listener might show eye contact throughout most of the conversation. Still, they were mainly silent and engaged less with the speaker. Perhaps with the occasional distraction (like checking a phone) as well.
After the conversation, the experimenters measured perceptions of listening quality, experiences of autonomy, and loneliness in the speaker (i.e., the person listened to).
Those in the high-listening group felt more related to the listener. They also felt like they had more autonomy. These factors contributed to feeling less lonely.
Other research has shown that it is more than just the person listened to who can benefit from listening. Engaging in focused listening has been shown to improve self-esteem, self-efficacy, and feelings of competence in the listener.1 In short, the art of good listening matters to all parties involved.
An essential aspect of all this is to stop and consider what good listening means. Sure, we might think we listen, but what do we define as good listening?
I could write a whole post on this topic (and likely will). For now, there are two lines of thought to note. Firstly, in counselling psychology, listening means creating a safe space where people can talk about their experiences. The listener tries to understand what the speaker is going through without judging them. They also show care and support to the speaker.4
More recently, in social psychology, listening in a more everyday context (like workplace conversations) highlights that good listening entails a mixture of behaviours related to conveying attention, comprehension, and positive intention toward the speaker.5
What might these behaviours look like? Think back to those example behaviours like engaging in head-nodding, leaning in, and expressing interest that we spoke about when describing the high-quality listening group in the study on loneliness mentioned above. Showing these behaviours can help to display good listening.6
Or, in more straightforward terms–sometimes it is easy to mistake hearing for listening. Hearing is a sense–listening is about making sense and showing others that we are engaging with the information we hear. It’s about creating a space where others feel acknowledged and understood. By genuinely listening to someone else’s point of view, we can foster deeper conversations and gain new insights: aiding our social connections at work, home, or elsewhere.
1. Kluger, A. N., & Itzchakov, G. (2022). The power of listening at work. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 9, 121-146.
2. Lloyd, K. J., Boer, D., Keller, J. W., & Voelpel, S. (2015). Is my boss really listening to me? The impact of perceived supervisor listening on emotional exhaustion, turnover intention, and organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 130, 509-524.
3. Itzchakov, G., Weinstein, N., Saluk, D., & Amar, M. (2022). Connection heals wounds: feeling listened to reduces speakers’ loneliness following a social rejection disclosure. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 01461672221100369.
4. Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being Houghton Mifflin. Boston MA.
5. Itzchakov, G., Reis, H. T., & Weinstein, N. (2022). How to foster perceived partner responsiveness: High‐quality listening is key. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 16(1), e12648.
6. Collins, H. K. (2022). When listening is spoken. Current Opinion in Psychology, 101402.