Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Counselling skills for the workplace, how to listen so people will talk

We spend a large proportion of our lives at work so it’s hardly surprising that from time to time work issues and personal problems can affect our behaviour and performance in the workplace. Being able to talk to a colleague at times like this could prevent our problems escalating, which can only be a good thing.

Counselling is a much better approach to dealing with people's problems than telling people what to do. It’s based on the helping-people-to-help-themselves theory, which is extremely useful in the workplace.

The good news is that developing a few of the skills used by counsellors can help you work alongside and understand other people more effectively, particularly if you are in a management role and often speak to people about work-related problems, such as performance issues, personal relationships and career development.

Through open discussion and active listening you can help your colleagues identify and take ownership of existing work issues. You can help them work out their own solutions.

Key points to remember when talking to colleagues in the workplace:

  • Ask what has happened, not why it has.
  • Some parts of the workplace conversations can be kept confidential, others can’t. Makes sure you’re honest with your colleagues about the information you’ll have to share with others.
  • Be prepared to constructively challenge who you’re speaking to, point out the inconsistencies and challenge people to acknowledge them.
  • Understand where the line is drawn between talking to a colleagues in the workplace and the need to find professional help and support.

The main counselling skills used in the workplace are effective questioning and active listening

There’s a saying that goes: we have one mouth and two ears for a reason. That means be prepared to listen to what someone is saying for at least double the time it takes you to ask the questions!

The ability to ask questions that people feel comfortable answering (and then being fully prepared to listen to and digest their responses) is paramount to providing a supporting and productive work environment.


Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. Listening to a colleague’s problems and using positive words or sounds, like yes and mmm is a recognised technique in counselling situations, letting the person know you’re listening to them and encouraging them to carry on talking. Repeating words back to the speaker and mirroring their body language is another way of helping someone feel at ease and more comfortable around you. Remember, what you do is as important as what you say, so look at the person you are speaking to, try not to yawn or look at your watch, and put aside distracting thoughts.


Let the other person know you are listening by nodding occasionally, smiling and using other facial expressions. Look at their body language too, mirror it where possible to portray empathy, make sure your posture is open and inviting. Be prepared to reflect back what has been said – “so, are you saying that…” – and ask clarifying questions – “What do you mean by…” Remember, listening is not about passing judgment or having an opinion on what is being said, very often just having someone to listen is enough for people to find their own clarity from within.

Start using these simple counselling skills in your workplace to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and develop better relationships.

First Psychology Assistance provides in-house training that can help enhance the skills of the people in your workplace. Find out more about First Psychology Assistance and the services we offer >

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