“Hearing Ain’t Listening”: Enhancing Your Safety-Leadership Presence through Active Listening

Hearing Ain't Listening: Enhancing Your Safety Culture Development Through Active Listening | Call to Action!One skill that is key for communicating a safety message in a group setting is your ability to listen. But listening is more than just hearing. In fact, listening and hearing are two different things entirely. Hearing is a faculty / listening is a skill. Just because we’ve heard a question or response from someone in the group doesn’t mean we’ve actually listened to it.

What is Active Listening?

We’ve been looking at a number of ways to build, use, and enhance our leadership presence to influence safety culture development while communicating safety, and active listening is a primary tool for accomplishing that goal. But what is active listening, and what does it look like?

Listening is active when it can been seen. If I’m leading a safety discussion, and someone else chimes in to ask a question, to respond to a question I’ve asked, or to offer a comment or insight, I have to give visual and audio clues that lets that person know I’m listening.

Using Active Listening to Enhance Safety Culture Development

A lot is at stake in your communication when the goal is enhancing safety culture development. If you want to ensure you are listening actively in any venue that involves safety communication to a group of people, be sure to follow these best practices.

Maintain eye contactAnother New e-Book by safetyBUILT-IN!

If while the other person is speaking I’m looking through my notes, looking down at the floor, or glancing around the room, it demonstrates a lack of interest in what the speaker is saying. Maintaining eye contact communicates interest and attention, and it helps me build rapport with my audience.

Use positive facial expressions

My facial expressions will reveal how I’m receiving someone else’s contribution in a meeting. If my face is contorted or I’m smirking while someone else is speaking, it will communicate a negative tone and will appear as though I don’t like what I’m hearing. Facial expressions must be open and positive.

Nod in agreement

If I respond to someone else’s comment with a deadpan stare, it can communicate annoyance and displeasure over what I’m hearing. By nodding my head while the speaker is commenting (naturally, not artificially), I encourage the speaker to continue making his/her point.

Mirror and paraphrase

Once the speaker has completed his/her thought, always repeat that thought back to them before responding. This verifies that you understand what they are saying or asking. It also has the added benefit of letting everyone else in the group know what was said or asked. Oftentimes the speaker won;t be loud enough for everyone else to hear. Mirroring what you heard before responding to it ensures everyone in the group is on the same page in that conversation.

Move in the opposite direction of the speaker

FCTC OnlineThis will seem counter intuitive when responding to someone’s question or comment, but it’s a mistake to close the distance between you and the person who just asked a question. When you do that, the volume of your voice (and the questioner’s voice) automatically reduces (after all, you don’t have to speak loudly when the person you;re speaking to is right next to you). You will have created a private audience with a single person in the group (or a single segment of that group), which in turn excludes and disengages the rest of the group (who may now be engaged in private conversations of their own!).

So, while maintaining eye contact, move in the opposite direction of the questioner. That opens up the discussion and ensures everyone else is included in that conversation.

Respond to the entire group, not to the questioner

Another (related) mistake we often make is to respond directly to the person who asked the question or made the comment. This closes the conversation and limits it to two people–you and the questioner. Instead, respond to the group. This reengages them and let’s them know that your response is just as relevant to them as it is to the person who asked the question.

The way we communicate a safety message is critical for ensuring engagement. These tips on active listening, as well as the broader emphasis on leadership presence in the rest of the series, will go a long way toward improving our overall safety culture development.

That’s all for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Be sure to view the associated video below to learn more about these tips. Until next time.



About the Author

Eric Svendsen
Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.