What’s one way that leaders can help build trust and confidence with their teams? Listening. It’s an often overlooked and underutilized leadership skill that makes a big difference when done well and consistently.

In our work to help leaders improve their communications, we typically find a few common reasons why executives or supervisors don’t make time to actively listen to employees, and it’s not because they don’t want to. First, they are often so busy juggling back-to-back meetings and never-ending tasks that they don’t have the mind space to give employees their full attention. And, second, they may fear that they don’t have all the answers to their team’s challenging questions or situations. It’s easier to avoid the conversations.

The good news: It doesn’t take much extra time to create room in your day to listen (or learn to listen better), and employees often want to know they are being heard versus needing solutions or all the answers.

Active listening is a learned technique that acknowledges you’ve truly heard and understand what someone is saying and feeling. It’s a way to build trust, establish rapport, and connect with team members. From various experiences and resources, here are six ways you can practice active listening starting today:

  1. Create time and space to give the employee your full attention. Put aside any distractions such as smart phones and laptops. Multi-tasking isn’t active listening!
  2. Restate the other person’s points in your own words to clarify or affirm what’s being said. For example: “So, what I hear you saying is …” or “Your main point is … Am I right?” Sometimes employees just want to validate that their approach or idea is on the right track.
  3. Ask for an example so the employee can expand on an idea or opportunity; or pose open-ended questions to allow the employee to elaborate. For example: “Can you share a recent situation about …?” or “What would you recommend based on this?”
  4. Give non-verbal signs of listening, such as nodding your head and maintaining eye contact.
  5. Acknowledge the emotion and show that you understand the feelings behind the person’s words. For example: “From your comment, you sound very concerned.”
  6. Demonstrate respect to let them know you value them as individuals. For example: “I appreciate your sharing this with me, and I understand how important this is to you.” Withhold judgement and wait to disclose your opinion or share similar experiences, if or when appropriate.