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how active listening improves communication in hospitality

Do you consider yourself a good listener?

You might think you are because you try to focus, stay quiet, and show you’re paying attention by nodding along or summarising what the other person said.

These are all smart things to do, but they can still leave the speaker feelings unheard or even dismissed.

Active listening means more than just staying quiet and nodding. It involves from learning how to read subtle cues to controlling your own emotional response. It requires both empathy and self-awareness.

In this article, we’re going to explain what active listening looks and feels like especially in the hospitality industry, and how to improve this essential communication skill.

What is active listening?

Active listening goes beyond hearing what someone is saying, but it involves turning into the speaker’s thoughts and emotions, transforming a conversation into an active, non-competitive, two-way interaction.

In the article “How to Become a Better Listener” by Robin Abrahams and Boris Groysberge, active listening is dissected into three key aspects:

  • Cognitive – Paying attention to all the information, both explicit and implicit, that you are receiving from the other person, comprehending, and integrating that information
  • Emotional – Staying calm and compassionate during the conversation, including managing any emotional reactions (annoyance, boredom) you might experience
  • Behavioural – Conveying interest and comprehension verbally and non-verbally

Getting good at active listening is an ongoing journey, but even minor enhancements can make a big difference in your listening effectiveness.

What does active listening matter in hospitality?

how active listening improves communication in hospitality

In the hospitality industry, active listening holds exceptional significance, where you need to communicate with diverse and demanding customers, who expect high-quality service and satisfaction. Active listening becomes a powerful tool for showing that you care about their needs, preferences, and feedback, and that you are willing to go the extra mile to meet their expectations.

Moreover, in handling complaints, requests, and suggestions, active listening aids in maintaining a professional and courteous manner, and swiftly resolve any issues that may arise. This practice can also improve your communication with your colleagues and managers, who rely on you to perform your task efficiently and effectively. By using active listening, you can foster teamwork, collaboration and mutual support, as well as learn from others and share your ideas and opinions.

How to practice active listening in hospitality?

Practicing active listening in hospitality requires some fundamental steps to help you improve your communication skills.

1. Understanding needs

Begin by truly comprehending the needs of your guests. Active listening enables you to pick up on more than just the explicit requests; it helps you interpret the nuances and emotions behind the words. By paying close attention to verbal cues and body language, you can gauge whether a guest is in a hurry, prefers minimal interaction, or seeks a detailed explanation. This depth of understanding empowers you to tailor your service approach, ensuring that each guest feels genuinely heard and valued, which is essential in creating a memorable hospitality experience.

Embrace Omotenashi, the Japanese ethos of selfless hospitality and customer service, characterised by its emphasis on anticipating needs and meticulous attention to detail. Incorporating this cultural touchstone can significantly elevate the quality of your service, setting you apart in the industry.

2. Showing empathy

Expressing empathy is a powerful way to connect with guests and improve communication. When you actively listen, you demonstrate that you understand and relate to their feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but acknowledging their emotions can make a big difference. For example, if a guest is upset about a room issue, saying “I can see why that would be upsetting” validates their feelings and helps de-escalate the situation. Empathy builds trust and encourages honest conversations, which is crucial in hospitality.

Genuine hospitality relies on empathy. It creates an instant bond, allowing team members to see things from the guest’s point of view, while making guests feel heard and understood. It builds a level of trust and comfort, which further strengthens a relationship.

3. Giving feedback

Feedback is a two-way street in hospitality. As you actively listen to guests, giving them clear and concise feedback can affirm that their messages are being received. Use paraphrasing or summarising to reflect what you’ve heard and ask clarifying questions if necessary. This not only ensures that you’re paying attention but also that you care about their concerns. Effective feedback can make guests feel valued and respected, improving their experience.

Feedback plays a pivotal role in the hotel industry, helping us learn and grow. Each review teaches us something new, helping us make our services better and keep our guests happy.

4. Non-verbal cues

Active listening goes beyond simply hearing words; it also involves paying attention to non-verbal cues. Your body language, eye contact, and even silence can communicate attentiveness and understanding. By adopting an open posture and nodding occasionally, you signal to guests that you’re fully engaged with them. Moreover, appropriate facial expressions can express empathy and acknowledge their emotions. In hospitality, where personal interactions are key, mastering non-verbal communication can significantly enhance the overall communication process.

Eye contact and a warm smile set the tone for a guest’s experience from the moment they arrive and continue to create a welcoming atmosphere throughout their stay. Even during busy times at the front desk, taking a moment to acknowledge guests with a smile can leave a lasting impression. Remaining attentive to all guests in the lobby throughout your shift can truly elevate the level of service provided.

5. Avoiding interruptions

One of the most crucial aspects of active listening is avoiding interruptions. When interacting with guests, it’s crucial to allow them the space to express themselves fully without jumping in with solutions or opinions. Interrupting not only disrupts the flow of conversation but can also make guests feel disregarded. By patiently waiting for your turn to speak, you show respect for their input and emphasis that their satisfaction is your priority. This practice of patience forms the cornerstone of effective communication in the hospitality industry.

This applies in your personal life too. Not interrupting during conversations with guests is vital for keeping things respectful and smooth. When you interrupt, you disrupt their train of thought and might make them feel like their opinions don’t matter. This can cause misunderstandings or frustration. By listening well and waiting for the right time to respond, you show you care and create a friendly atmosphere where everyone feels heard and valued.

6. Follow-up actions

Ultimately, active listening should result in meaningful follow-up actions that address the guest’s needs or concerns. Whether it’s a special request for a room amenity or addressing a complaint, taking prompt and appropriate action shows that you’ve not only listened but are also committed to providing excellent service. By documenting important details and ensuring promises are kept, you can leave a lasting positive impression on guests. In the hospitality industry, where actions often carry more weight than words, following up is an essential component of active listening and effective communication.


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