Mindful Listening: Understanding Its Role in the Workplace

As we work towards creating positive systemic changes in the workplace and beyond, starting (and continuing) an honest dialogue will be crucial.

Mindful Listening: Understanding Its Role in the Workplace

February is Black History Month, but championing an inclusive and equitable workplace is something we should all be fighting for year-round. Building an inclusive workplace is a complex task requiring deep, systemic changes that have taken place over many years. However, we can all contribute daily by practising mindful listening with our peers.

In this article, we’ll be sharing tips for practising mindful listening in the workplace with the help of Miranda McKie, CEO and Founder of McKie Consultants, an organisation specialising in diversity, equity, and inclusion analytics.

What is mindful listening? 

Mindful listening refers to the practice of paying close attention to our peers when they're speaking by suspending judgement, criticism and interruption.

"Mindful listening is when you're trying not to come into a conversation with your preconceived notions about something and trying to make sure that you're empathizing with the person that you're speaking with, which is usually the hardest thing people struggle with," McKie says.

According to McKie, mindful listening is closely related to the act of empathising with another person’s experience as they see it rather than seeing it through your lens, which isn’t always easy.

“In terms of empathy and empathising, it is truly just the act of listening and trying not to associate your views on what someone is saying, and trying to really understand their perspective as much as possible.”

Why is mindful listening important? 

McKie says mindful listening is essential when it comes to conversations around DEI. Not only can mindful listening help to foster a culture of empathy in the workplace or any group, but it can also help to move conversations forward because it makes it easier to understand the other person’s point of view.

“When you’re listening mindfully and trying to create a culture of empathy, it just helps you connect with someone as opposed to trying to come into a conversation (especially around topics of diversity, equity and inclusion that are a little bit tougher) with your views and perceptions,” she says.

Learn more about understanding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace

What is active awareness? 

In addition to mindful listening, active awareness is another important practice that can help move the needle toward fostering an inclusive workplace. McKie defines active awareness as proactively seeking information about the challenges others around you may be experiencing and understanding your responsibility to increase your knowledge base.

“Active awareness is really about how you’re being mindful and understanding different topics around you, and proactively going out, trying to find that information and doing your due diligence to find that information as opposed to always waiting for it to come to you and being reactive about it,” McKie says.

How mindful listening and active awareness can help support an inclusive workplace

Now that we’ve explored definitions of mindful listening and active awareness, how can we implement them to work towards creating inclusive workplaces?

McKie reminds us that practices like mindful listening and active awareness are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the changes that need to be made in the future. Creating an equitable workplace will involve significant systemic changes that go beyond the surface level.

"When we're thinking about creating a workplace that's inclusive, that's equitable, it really needs to be addressed at the institutional level," she says. "It's about how do we go beyond just the surface level stuff, and start saying, 'how are we going to take tangible action and change?'"

Steps for practising mindfulness listening and active awareness

As we continue to implement practices like mindful listening and active awareness in the workplace, McKie shared a few dos and don’ts for organisations to consider in the future:

  • DO practice mindful listening. During conversations with your peers, put in the effort to digest what the other person is saying instead of just waiting for them to finish speaking so you can put in your two cents.
  • DON’T force underrepresented people to share their experiences if they don’t feel comfortable. McKie notes that any discussions should be organic, not forced.
  • DO encourage mindful listening from the top down. Leaders can do this by structuring their organisation to provide a platform for even the most junior-level employees to speak up through employee resource groups, social committees, or other resources.
  • DON’T jump on any bandwagons. McKie cautions against making any changes based on what another organization or a company is doing, as opposed to solving for your organization's unique needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so it's essential to use critical thinking skills every step of the way.
  • DO remember that building an inclusive workplace is a journey. McKie reminds us that systemic changes don’t happen overnight. It's important to implement attainable actions that will yield ROI for the organisation and employees.

Practices like mindful listening and active awareness are just a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to building an inclusive workforce. McKie reminds us that everyone within the organisation must operate with empathy and understanding as we fight for systemic change. 

If you're looking for additional ways to make a difference in how your organisation addresses mindful listening, ask your HR leader how to request webinars or training through your Inkblot employee assistance program (EAP).