What is Active Listening and Why Does it Matter?
Deb Ward / MARCH 22 2021

The hospitality industry is becoming more focused on providing a unique experience for guests and not just a roof over their heads. Appealing to their emotions and the individual well-being of customers is one of the most important factors in guest satisfaction. This is a highly interactive and people-focused industry and it is vital that hospitality staff and managers master their communication skills.

Active listening is described as fully concentrating on what is being said, rather than just passively “hearing” the person talking. That means you’re using both verbal and non-verbal skills to convey your interest and understanding of the message. 

Some non-verbal signals of active listening are:

  • Eye contact. You needn’t stare at the speaker, but you also shouldn’t be looking at your phone, scanning the room, or looking at papers in your hand.
  • Lean in. Your posture should indicate that you’re tuned in and focused on what’s being said. You might tilt your head toward the speaker to indicate you’re listening.
  • Smile. Nodding and smiling are good indicators that you’re paying attention and can be powerful in affirming that the message is heard and understood.
  • Don’t interrupt.  Give the speaker time to pause and continue before you start to speak.
  • Remain neutral. While listening, don’t make judgments or facial expressions that may be interpreted as disapproving or dismissive. Listen with an open mind. 

Some verbal cues are:

  • Encouraging words. Used sparingly, saying something like “yes” or “I agree” or “very good” can encourage the speaker to continue. But if used too frequently, it can become annoying and disruptive.
  • Asking relevant questions. When it’s your turn to speak, asking good questions shows that you understand and help to reinforce that you are interested in what was said.
  • Paraphrasing. Repeating back what you heard in your own words confirms that you heard the message and understand. 
  • Clarifying. You can also ask open-ended questions that allow the speaker to expand on what they were saying and reinforce the important points.

Why is active listening important?

In hospitality, customer service is king and active listening ensures you are focused on truly hearing your guest and ready to meet their needs successfully. It redirects your focus from inside your head to the information your customer is sharing with you. 

You’re building rapport, demonstrating concern, and showing that you are eager to help. By paraphrasing what you heard, you’re validating the guest’s request and affirming what it is they want you to do. When you ask open-ended questions, you’re giving them the opportunity to explain what they need and by asking specific questions, you show that you’re engaged with them in finding a solution.

By employing these techniques, you will impress your visitor that you are thoughtful, caring, and invested in making sure they have the best, possible experience.  This is a soft skill that is highly desired in the hospitality industry.

Here are a few tips to improve your listening skills.

  1. Face the speaker. Don’t get distracted or look away at your watch, your phone, or the room.
  2. Withhold any judgment. If you’re thinking of your own opinions and forming negative thoughts, you’re not open to new ideas. 
  3. Don’t interrupt. Allow the speaker to finish their sentence, even if you think you know what they’re going to say. 
  4. Summarize what you heard. You’re making it clear that you understand the main points.
  5. Show empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to feel what they’re feeling.
  6. Recognize customer individuality. Your guests often come from other cultures and may have unique expectations. Your job is to listen, understand and accommodate their needs.
  7. Share your ideas about a solution. It’s your turn to introduce your ideas and gain agreement.
  8. Be open to feedback. Soft skills account for about 85% of your success in this industry, while hard skills affect about 15% of your job performance. Take your soft skills development seriously and you will be rewarded for your hard work.