Why Managers Should Listen to Understand, Not Respond

alan white


Wellness Consultant


When we think of stress, we immediately think of the negative consequences that it can have on our mental and physical health. Stress and its’ related physical symptoms is a leading cause of employee absenteeism and as a result can cost organisations a considerable amount annually. Developing strategies that empowers employees to manage their stress can help managers create teams that are more productive and develop committed, loyal employees and in turn a happier healthier workplace. “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” SYDNEY J. HARRIS

Not all stress is bad. We need some positive stress in our lives to motivate ourselves to set goals, develop ourselves both personally and professionally, and to strive to achieve these goals. All of us have a desire to achieve, feel productive and useful, but when we try to do too much at once, we often begin to feel stressed. This can make what was once a manageable workload feel insurmountable.

Very often, we find it hard to articulate to ourselves and others why we are feeling stressed. This is because:

we think in pictures


communicate with words

It can be difficult to clearly articulate what is frustrating us and making us feel overwhelmed.

When we set goals for ourselves either personally or professionally, we create a picture in our minds of what achieving success will look like. If we find it difficult to achieve this picture in the real world, we quickly become stressed and frustrated. When this happens, we tend to begin thinking negatively about ourselves and can affect the people closest to us, such as our family and our colleagues.

Managers can adopt two key strategies to help employees with this:

  • Listen to understand
  • Help employees develop workflow strategies


Listening to Understand

Listening to understand is key to helping employees manage stress. An employee that is heard will feel valued and will be more open to accepting support and advice.

When we have a conversation with someone, we are often formulating a response in our own minds while the person is talking. By doing this we miss out on what the person is trying to articulate and our response is more often than not less than what it could be. To listen to understand it is important to give the person your full attention. Listen attentively to what they are saying and only ask questions that will help you to understand what is being said.


Help Employees Develop Strategies 

Once you feel that you fully understand what the person is saying, you can then help them to look at the problem they are experiencing in a different way and possibly help them come up with solutions. This is called reframing. By using this method rather than trying to jump in too quickly with advice, you are allowing the other person to feel part of the process, and that they were empowered to come up with solutions themselves.

Through this process employees will often solve the problem that they brought to you themselves, be it how to reach a target or goal or how they could better manage their workload and reduce stress. Allowing someone to express their frustration and facilitating them to develop solutions to problems they are experiencing will help them to develop resilience and reduce stress. This in turn will help them to not only feel valued in the workplace but will cultivate their mental fitness by showing them that they have the capacity to overcome challenges they will face.

Workplace stress is becoming more and more prevalent, so it is not surprising that arming your staff to handle both good and bad stress will help foster a happier and healthy workplace. Look at online courses for training your employees, foster open dialogue with colleagues and promote good work/life balance practices.

For more advice on creating cultures where wellness of workers is at the forefront, please get in touch.

Download our free Workplace Stress Poster here!

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