Communication is everywhere and appears in many forms and formats. Verbal, nonverbal, written and images such as emojis and signage. Messages are conveyed face-to-face, on paper pages, over phone lines and on screens. All these forms of communication are how we give and receive information, share ideas and opinions, express our needs, foster relationships with friends and co-workers, and even keep ourselves safe.

To an employer, good communication skills are essential. In fact, employers rank effective communication skills at the top of the list for potential employees.

Most individuals are quite good at conveying information to others, the output of communication. Where many people fall short is in the receiving of information, the input of communication. Many of us simply don’t recognize how important it is. But the input piece, also known as active listening, is a crucial communication skill.

We listen in order to learn, gather data for decision making, appropriately respond to situations, and be more effective in our interpersonal relationships.  Listening happens simultaneously as we communicate with each other.  Someone speaks to us and we hear their voice, but are we actively listening? To be effective employees, parents, partners, or citizens, we must be active listeners.

While it is not always easy, fortunately we can learn to be good active listeners, just like we learn any other skill.  Active listening means that you are totally focused on what the other person is saying (communicating) in order to understand what they mean. As much as possible, minimize distractions, the internal voices in your head and the external, like phones. It requires conscious effort and energy but the payoffs are great – better relationships with co-workers, friends and family. And as the following example shows, time and cost savings.

The picture above shows our operations manager communicating with the paving superintendent about the concrete pour schedule for the coming week. It’s close to quitting time on a Friday and the paving supervisor is thinking about going out with friends tonight, Saturday’s chore list at home, etc. Because the paving supervisor is not actively listening, his crew is going to show up at the wrong jobsite on Monday, while the full concrete trucks are going to be waiting at the correct site. Because the paving supervisor was not actively listening he has cost his company time, money and he has lost credibility with his co-workers and bosses.

Construction sites are filled with hazards and life-threatening danger. Safety is a major concern. Actively listening every morning to the job hazard analysis, which identifies the hazards of the days’ activities will keep you and your co-workers out of harm’s way.

Active listening, as well as effectively communicating your information and ideas, will help you increase understanding, decrease conflict, become a valued employee and enhance all your relationships.