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How Listening Impacts Trust and Engagement

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends and colleagues who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. ~Karl A. Menninger

There are plenty of programs teaching people how to talk but few teaching them how to listen. In my own experiences of coaching and training leaders for over twenty years I can testify poor listening skills are the number one behavior affecting performance of individuals and teams. An inability to listen well directly impacts engagement of people, trust, and bottom line results in a work environment. It also impacts personal relationships with family and friends.

Poor listening communicates to another person you do not care what they are saying and serves to “shut them down”, causing disengagement and mistrust in the process. The obvious consequences of this are ideas are never spoken, and engagement, commitment and results are impacted. You may have people going through the motions and doing what they are told, but their hearts and commitment are not there. 

Developing an organizational culture where active listening is part of cultural norms will dramatically impact active engagement of your people and the bottom line results they produce. Most engagement surveys I have seen list poor management communication at the top, along with mistrust of management. When digging into this, what people are really saying is, they do not feel like management is listening to them. Unfortunately, many managers/leaders believe that communication is them talking to their people. As Stephen Covey says, “Most people do not listen to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.”

Suggestions for Improving Your Listening Skills

Before a Conversation:

  • Seek to understand the situation and the person before seeking to be understood.

  • Drop any assumptions you already know what the other person will say. Even though you have your own ideas, try to have an open mind. You are gathering facts, about the situation and what the other person believes and feels.

  • Plan in advance to limit the time you spend talking to 25% of the conversation.

  • Make a list of questions or topics you want to cover.

  • Put down, ignore, or turn off phones, other mobile devices and computers.

  • Understand the temperament of the person you are talking with.

During the Conversation:

  • Stay focused on the conversation.

  • Ask clarifying, curious, specific, and probing questions to sharpen the focus of the conversation.

  • Play back key points for clarifying what you are hearing, i.e. “Can I play that back to make sure I understand?”

  • Pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice as potential sources of meaning.

  • Use pauses to reflect or draw out more information. Do not be afraid of moments of silence in the conversation. This may feel awkward but is a highly effective listening tool.

  • Maintain your emotional self-control. Try to understand the objective facts as well as how the person is feeling. Do not be defensive. This earns you the right to be heard.

  • When you believe you have understanding, then paraphrase what you believe you have heard. Do not make assumptions. Allow the other person to validate or clarify your understanding.

  • Create a safe place to have the conversation.

Leadership, at its essence, embodies two objectives: providing clarity of mission or expectations, and influencing the head, hands, and hearts of others to follow. Influencing of the heart is the most important because this is the seat of passion, emotions, and commitment. As a leader you want the best solutions, results, and commitment. And, all of these things are most easily accomplished by whole and complete listening. Try it. I guarantee it will improve your influence and will improve your influence and results.


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