Listening is an essential component of effective communication within the workplace because it helps to facilitate understanding and learning which will lead to increased productivity. Direct eye contact, head nodding and being silent are all critical behaviors of effective listening within the workplace. Direct eye contact, which enables concentration and helps avoid distractions, will allow the listener to focus directly on the speaker. Head nodding conveys a clear physical signal to the speaker showing that the message is being received the head nod is also used for subtle recursion and can have positive effects if used properly.
Being silent while listening can also have a positive effect on the speaker by not allowing interruptions and distractions to deter the listeners' attention. Being silent and evaluating the message will allow the listener time to think about the response, hence, eye contact, head nodding and silence are critical in creating more thoughtful and robust communication. Direct eye contact is a skill that engages both the speaker and the listener and is an extremely effective tool in remaining attentive while reducing distractions. Pearson et al. 2011 : 350) refer to eye contact as the extent to which the speaker looks directly at the audience, while Divide (2006: 140) explains it as psychologically closing the gap between yourself and the audience. In a work environment there are many reasons eye contact is useful in effective listening. First, eye contact is used show the speaker that communication may commence and the message will be received (Divide, 2006: 140). Second, when someone needs to persuade a potential buyer or influence a group a certain way eye contact is used to build rapport (Upon, 1998: 9).
Lastly, eye contact is used more consistently by the listener rather than the speaker so it can be used to provide feedback to the speaker (Divide, 2006: 140). Hence, out of all nonverbal communication, eye contact is the most important because it can signify interest and shows respect for the speaker (Upon, 1998: 3). Eye contact is also a sign of assertiveness and can be used in a positive manner to promote a confident persona. A study conducted by Legislations et al. (1998: 323) concluded that people that maintain eye contact for longer periods were perceived to be more confident.
Therefore, good eye contact will tighten relationships, provide feedback and is fundamental in building rapport and open communication channels. Nodding the head is an essential component of effective listening and a simple meaner of providing feedback. The head nod is one of the most frequently used forms of nonverbal communication and along with eye contact can have different meanings for different cultures. Head nodding in most western cultures is a sign of agreement which was derived from the submissive gesture of bowing. For example, in a busy factory, a manager can nod to communicate the word yes' rather than yell at the employees.
Pease (2004: 230) explains the head nod as an extremely useful tool in the power of persuasion. If the speaker is getting nods from the listener, it is seen as a sign to keep going continue. If the listener increases the rate of nods, it usually meaner that the listener wants to take over the speaking role (Munson, 2006: 235). In a business context, being able to persuade and to encourage agreement is a very useful tool in the negotiation process. In this context, head nodding is an exceptional tool in gaining cooperation because it can be very infectious, and can create positive linings (Pease, 2004: 231).
Therefore, as a simple and extremely effective listening tool to build rapport, gain agreement and cooperation in the workplace, the simple head nod is very powerful. Silence is a fundamental aspect of listening effectively and an important tool in understanding the message. 'Silence allows the speaker time to think, time to formulate and organize his or her verbal communications' (Divide, 2006: 149). Allowing the speaker time to think will relieve pressure so the message can be properly thought through before delivery (Munson, 2006: 80). Silence can also be a useful strategy in preventing saying something that may be regretted later.
As Divide (2006: 149-150) points out, silence can allow time for communicators to calm down when situations get malevolent and out of control, to avoid saying something that cannot be taken back. Being silent will provide an opportunity for the listener to reflect on what has been said and to formulate a valid response (Caveat, 2011: 170). Being silent and listening attentively will give the speaker the positive feeling that he or she is really being heard. In the nursing industry for example the importance of lenience and listening to patients is among the most important lessons to learn.
By being silent and listening to patients, the nurse will be able to make more informed decisions. As Wright (2006: 20) describes, the listener, by not interrupting will hear things that might otherwise go unheard. Hence, being silent and listening without interruptions will serve to provide better understanding of the message and also to create an environment that promotes thinking before speaking. Using not Just one but a combination of these skills will lead to a greater understanding of the message Ewing sent (Meridian, 1972, cited in Somers et al. 989: 165). Eye contact, head nodding and silence are all important skills in attentive listening which is an integral aspect in any workplace. Maintaining eye contact closes the psychological space between the speaker and the listener, it also signifies interest in what is being said and creates a confident persona. Head nodding is a powerful tool of persuasion and creating cooperation. It can build rapport and facilitate positivist and understanding. Silence allows the speaker time to think which can relieve pressure, making for more meaningful conversation.
Silence is also a useful tactic to allow time to relax and formulate a significant and thoughtful response. Therefore, the use of eye contact, head nodding and silence as ingredients for effective listening will enhance the communication process and lead to greater understanding between colleagues, thus increasing productivity.