44’s Account Director, Sam Docking, explores the importance of listening and why she’s all ears.

Samantha. For those of us at a certain age, we may have been named after the nose-twitching heroine from the US TV-show Bewitched. Or, more recently, after the uber-confident character Samantha Jones from Sex and the City.

But did you know that the name Samantha means to listen well? For this reason, listening is a skill I’ve always thought I should be naturally good at. It’s one I’ve not only been honing over the years, but actively encouraging in my day-to-day work with our clients.

The importance of listening

At 44 Communications, our comms specialists all know how important it is to listen to employees. It’s a skill every good communicator needs to have in their toolkit. And, proving that they’re listening to our advice, it’s something we’re increasingly being asked by clients to apply before we develop a communications solution. As Patrick Williams states in the Gower Handbook of Internal Communication: “All successful communication begins with one and the same act: listening.”

Whether that be in a one-to-one interview, a senior leadership workshop or in the form of a focus group, listening is simply the best way to do a temperature check on how colleagues are feeling. Are they clear on the company’s strategy? Are they getting what they need from internal communications? What is the best way to reach them? And with hybrid working here to stay, do they feel connected and engaged? According to Forbes, 74% of employees said they are more effective at their job when they feel heard.

Of course, it’s not just about hearing what’s said, it’s about making sure colleagues feel listened to. Listening is often the best way to read people’s immediate reactions to the current landscape. Building employee feedback into a recommendations report or specific communications solution means you’re already halfway to achieving better engagement. The recent Institute of Internal Communications’ IC Index states: “Many employees aren’t convinced that their organisation is listening to them, or that they’ll see positive action on the feedback they provide. Staff surveys alone won’t get the job done. Regular listening and manager feedback is essential for hitting high levels of positivity.” So, if your people are going to take the time to give you their opinions, it’s good manners, and even better communications process, to make sure they know you heard them.

Don’t worry, we hear you

Creating the best environment for listening – and allowing people to feel heard – takes a bit of planning. Recently, for a regional police force, we spoke to around 60 officers and staff as part of a diversity and inclusion campaign, including those working on the frontline as well as others in senior ranking roles. This meant working with the scheduling team to ensure officers weren’t going to be whisked off to an emergency. Knowing these people were taking time to help us improve their communications, and in turn make it easier for them to do their jobs, is a surefire way to ensure you make the best use of every second with them.

For one of our charity partners, we spoke to a range of stakeholders across several locations to understand the best approach for a rebrand. The focus groups and interviews ensured colleagues and stakeholders were involved from the outset and felt listened to. This initial feedback played a major part in the concept designs and, when launched, colleagues and stakeholders loved the new look which will help boost the charity’s profile and reflect its mission.

And just last week, as part of a comms audit, we went into the depths of a pharmaceutical company to speak to their hardest-to-reach audience. This was not for the faint hearted, as the process required complex health and safety training and PPE which would have made Sex in the City’s Samantha shudder. But I believe just the simple act of making these individuals feel listened to means we’re already onto a winner.

In John Smythe’s The Chief Engagement Officer, he lists co-creation as one of the tasks that elevates communications from showing and telling, to something more compelling to the intended audience. Employees often have the best ideas. They just need the right forum to air them.

Unsure about how to listen to your employees? Then here’s our top tips for success:

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. Be clear about what you are trying to achieve and the agenda/topics for the session so you can make the best use of the time. Conversations fly by and you need to keep your attendees focused.
  • Make sure you select the best method for the audience. One-to-one interviews may be better with the senior leadership team, while a small focus group could work better for representatives from a few departments at a similar level. To allow people to speak freely and feel comfortable, we recommend attendees are not scheduled in the same focus group as their line managers.
  • Always try to get the best representation from across the business so you can build up a true picture. And the trickier the audience, the harder you try. Finding a way to get the hardest to reach involved is vital, as they often feel the most unheard.
  • Actively listen. It’s a good idea to have a note taker so you can give the audience your full attention and steer the conversation without being too distracted with capturing outputs.
  • Don’t forget to feed back to those who got involved so they know you heard them.

If you would like to know more about listening to your employees or stakeholders, please get in touch. We’d love to hear what you have to say.