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May 8, 2019

How to Listen so Employees Talk


You’ve probably heard the saying, “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." As leaders, this simple wisdom is a good reminder and reality check for many of us.

Listening. It’s a skill virtually all of us can work on. 

Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, there are a number of ways to raise the bar.

Follow these steps to become a better listener:

  • Approach each dialogue with the goal to learn something. Think, “This person can teach me something.” What new insight or perspective is the person sharing with me?
  • Stop talking and focus closely on the speaker. Suppress the urge to multitask or think about what you are going to say next. Put down the phone or close the laptop and make good eye contact with the speaker. Be in this moment, not the next.
  • Open and guide the conversation with broad, open-ended questions such as “How do you envision…” or “Help me understand how you’re thinking about this.”
  • Then, drill down to the details, where needed, by asking direct, specific questions that focus the conversation, such as “Tell me more about…,” “How would this work?” or “What challenges might we face?”
  • Pay attention to your responses. Be aware of your body language and recognize that the way you respond to a question will facilitate further dialogue or limit what’s discussed by shutting someone down. Purposefully let someone know you’re listening and want to hear more from them through positive body or other verbal cues.
  • Summarize what you’re hearing and ask questions to confirm your understanding, such as “Here’s what I hear you saying....” or “Let me summarize what I’m hearing…."
  • Listen for total meaning. Recognize that, in addition to what is being said, the real message may be non-verbal; consider what’s not being said as critical to the message, too.

In the end, the goal is to better understand where someone is coming from, and get the information you need to take the next step and/or make a smart decision. 

Which of these steps would be most helpful for you to adopt?

—David Grossman

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