Tag Archives: listening

“Tell me more about that….”

(Click on image to expand)

To truly understand someone you need to care about them, at least a little bit. As a proud introverted leader that sounds daunting. Yet a close look at the Gallup Q12 Engagement Index shows that a “manager caring about their people” is a clear determinant of employee engagement!

How can you get to know your people while still respecting and acknowledging the natural boundaries that exist between leaders and their teams? You are busy, your people are busy, and you are their boss. Leaders can’t become best friends or confidants, but genuine caring about employees as a whole person is crucial. For most leaders the problem isn’t the genuine caring but figuring out HOW to show their interest and caring in a work setting.

A recent article in Forbes highlights “Seven Ways a Leader Can Get to Know Their Team Better” with practical ideas.

  1. Help Your People Succeed Anywhere, Not Just in Their Current Role. Remind yourself and your people that success and development in their current role will help them in their future, regardless of where they choose to go.
  2. Schedule Regular Celebrations. This isn’t a new idea but in the chaotic world of work it is easily overlooked. Taking time together and talking about non-work topics builds stronger relationships.
  3. Manage By Walking Around. Get up and informally talk with your people. Share personal anecdotes and inquire about non-work activities, milestones, and experiences.
  4. Talk Naturally During Downtimes. Take advantage of the time before meetings, in the hallway, on the elevator, or while webinars are starting to chat about anything other than work.
  5. Ask About Displayed Photos, Trinkets, Mementos, Art Work, etc. This is my favorite! I started the post with a saying I have posted on my wall and I have many stories behind it. What your people display is important to them and asking about it will help you truly connect.
  6. Make Sure to Listen! All your hard work will be for naught if you don’t actually listen. Enough said.
  7. It Requires Variety. Genuineness and caring is not one size fits all. When you open up your interactions to the whole person you need to be flexible and adaptable.

Ask about that photo and see what you learn. I bet it will be interesting.

Todd Thorsgaard

Don’t forget the endings!

It is tempting to focus on the new beginnings as a leader. We craft messages that highlight the benefits of the new system or the new structure. We glowingly describe the advantages of a new procedure or we document the potential dollars saved “after” the change is implemented. Yet study after study have confirmed that often we never reach the hoped-for Shangri-la.

William Bridges, in the 25th anniversary edition of his ground breaking book,  (Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Da Capo Press. 2009.)  counsels leaders to actually meet their people where they are at, the endings they are facing! All new beginnings include something ending or being lost. When we only focus on the new beginnings and ignore that our people are losing something we won’t get to the new beginning as smoothly or successfully as we hope.

Think about it, a new school year also means the end of unstructured summer time. A new leader also means the end of knowing how your previous leader liked to get updates. Or a new house also means not knowing where the closest take-out pizza place is!

It isn’t necessary, or even advisable, to wallow in the losses and endings but it is important to start there to ensure a better transition to the new beginning. Specifically Bridges advises leaders to work with their people and make sure they understand what losses they are experiencing. It may be a loss of:

  • competency
  • comfort
  • status
  • influence
  • routines
  • independence
  • or many others

While many of these losses can and will be replaced or redefined you can help your people understand what is actually ending and what isn’t ending. As an example, the human resource division at Minnesota State is changing to a service center model for HR transactions. Most employee record keeping and status changes will be done by staff at four regional centers. Campus HR staff will clearly feel a loss of direct connection with people on their campus since they won’t be processing the paper work in this new model. It is important for campus HR leaders to acknowledge that loss and also highlight that their staff  will still have have access to employee records. They will be able to answer questions and will still have a personal relationship with the faculty and staff on their campus. Lack of clarity on what is ending and what is staying can lead to the natural tendency to over estimate what is ending!

Yes, the new beginnings are bright and shiny but we need to see and acknowledge that our people are experiencing some losses and endings if we want them to join us on the other side of the change.

Todd Thorsgaard


Listening and leading

listeningWe’ve pointed out before that listening is an essential leadership skill. When it comes to leading for the common good, it’s more important than ever.

I recently heard a TED talk by Julian Treasure in which he pointed out the importance of conscious listening. He said filters – things like culture, values, expectations, attitudes, and beliefs – impact how we listen. Even though most people are unconscious of their filters, these filters create our reality by determining what we pay attention to.

Our fast-paced and noisy culture is inhibiting our ability to do the kind of conscious listening that creates understanding across differences. Treasure recommends that we practice these five skills, and encourage our staff to practice them, in order to enhance our listening skills.

  1. Embrace silence – spend 3 minutes each day in quietness.
  2. Focus on channels – listen to all the sources of sound around you and try to separate as many distinct sounds as possible.
  3. Savor sounds – focus on everyday sounds and learn to appreciate them.
  4. Examine your listening positions – identify your filters and learn to be intentional. Are you being active or passive? Critical or empathetic? What is impacting your perception of what you’re hearing?
  5. Practice RACA – Receive information consciously, Appreciate the viewpoint of the speaker, Summarize what you heard, and Ask followup questions.

Treasure says that we’re losing our ability to listen. Do you agree? If so how can we reverse that trend?

Dee Anne Bonebright


The impossible dream

lack of trustAgonizing, painful, draining, scary, oppressive, need to document everything, requires excessive preparation, complex, confusing, misleading, insincere, duplicitous and just plain – no fun!  Sound familiar?

Those are the words I hear when I ask leaders, “what is it like to work with someone who doesn’t trust you or someone that you don’t trust?”

Next everyone laments how it feels impossible to restore or to regain trust after it is lost. I have to admit I feel the same way. When something goes wrong it just feels like so much work to rebuild the relationship and I end up focusing on the daunting task ahead, instead of taking action.

As challenging as it is, leaders are responsible for not just building trust but also restoring trust when it is missing. Henna Inam, Executive Coach and contributor to Forbes magazine describes a three step approach for leaders to rebuild trust.

Manage yourself – Often the hardest step but a required one. We must shift from placing blame to taking action. Inman recommends:

  • take personal accountability for restoring the relationship; don’t wait for it to fix itself
  • reframe your view of the other person
  • accept their perspective as legitimate – even if it is different from yours

Initiate a conversation, even knowing it will be uncomfortable – restoring trust will only happen with direct communication. Be sure to:

  • state the reality that there is an issue, in a non-threatening or defensive manner
  • clearly verbalize your interest in rebuilding the relationship and ask for their help
  • acknowledge your role in the broken trust
  • listen with empathy and avoid defending your actions
  • use dialogue to get their ideas and then commitment to action to restore trust
  • agree to give each other feedback on what is working and what isn’t as you take action to restore trust

Follow through with action – restoring trust takes time and requires persistent action.

  • continue to follow through on your commitments, even when the other person isn’t
  • be prepared for skepticism at first
  • look for small victories

Often you will need to go back to step one but with commitment and focus you can take the steps that will improve trust in many situations. Good luck!

Todd Thorsgaard



Listening and the imagination gap

in one earI recently heard a TED talk by Intel engineer Tony Salvador. He described the “imagination gap” in listening, which he defined as the difference between what we can imagine and what we hear.

We all bring biases and preconceptions to conversations. When the other person says something that doesn’t fit, we experience cognitive dissonance. Our response can be to hear what fits with our beliefs and ignore what doesn’t.

For example, Salvador told about working on a team to promote education in Vietnam. In his mind, education was about getting a job. For his partners, he realized that it was about being part of a global community that uses education as a marker of success. They were having different conversations without understanding each other’s viewpoints.

A few years ago I experienced the same thing. Our team was designing an online training course for employees. One supervisor pointed out that many of his employees work in remote locations and have no access to computers, either at work or at home. We were talking about completion dates and tracking while he was talking about access and alternative delivery options. Our team really didn’t hear his concern that our plan might not work for everyone.

Salvador proposed that we can reduce cognitive dissonance in a different way – by increasing our ability to imagine the other person’s viewpoint. To close the imagination gap, we need to aim for some very difficult goals:

  • Start every conversation fresh without preconceived biases
  • Listen to ideas that we may not like and hold them long enough to understand the other person’s viewpoint
  • Listen for things that aren’t said and that we don’t know to listen for

He challenged his IT audience with some key questions that work in higher ed as well:  Who are we going to listen to? How are we going to listen to them? And most important, will we have the collective humility to be vulnerable enough to struggle with differences and challenges so that we can build our future together?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Listen! Really listen!

listen“She isn’t interested in my opinion.” “He doesn’t care what I have to say.” “She already has her mind made up!” “He just doesn’t listen!”

Have you ever heard any of these statements about a leader you know? Perhaps, you’ve heard them said about yourself. It may come as no surprise, but poor listening skills can derail the most talented and charismatic leader’s career.

According to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), “…leaders are usually shocked to learn that others see them as impatient, judgmental, arrogant or unaware.” Assessments of thousands of leaders in CCL’s database indicate that many leaders fall short on abilities that directly relate to their listening skills, including:

  • Accepting criticism and making necessary changes in their behavior
  • Trying to understand what other people think before making judgments
  • Encouraging direct reports to share
  • Imagining someone else’s point of view

If not corrected, poor listening skills contribute to poor relationships and translate into low employee morale and poor productivity. So what can you do to make sure that you are not one of the many leaders who alienates their employees due to poor listening skills?

Here are a few tips from Sara Stibitz, writer for the Harvard Business Review:


  • Take an honest look at both your good and bad habits
  • Clear out all distractions that might draw your attention away from the person in front of you
  • Ask clarifying questions and repeat back what you heard


  • Assume you know all of the answers — allow for the possibility that others have valuable information to share
  • Overlook nonverbal cues — they often reveal what a person is really thinking
  • React emotionally to what is being said — acknowledge the information even if you don’t agree

What do you do to make sure you are really listening to those you lead?

Anita Rios

Want to cut through the noise? Listen

not-listening-Tshirt“The big miss for most leaders is that they fail to understand that the purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage – THIS REQUIRES LISTENING.” –Mike Myatt, author, Leadership Matters

Happy Labor Day! Hopefully, you’re relaxing and recharging today on our national holiday set aside for recognizing the contributions that American workers have made to our country. Just in case you’re checking your email or social media, I thought I’d give you some food for thought.

As leaders, we often think of communication in terms of getting our message heard in a sea of competing messages. We create communication plans that outline important messages. We compile lists of key stakeholder groups and determine the most effective modes of communication such as email, newsletters, video, presentations or speeches. However, as Mike Myatt points out the primary purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage.

Following that logic, one of the best ways to cut through the noise may be to listen. Seems counterintuitive, right? Well perhaps not.

Think of the best leaders you have encountered in your career.

Were they the ones who spoke most eloquently or persuasively, focusing primarily on getting their message heard? Were they the leaders who spoke most of the time during a meeting expecting others to listen?

Or were they the ones who actively listened to their employees and stakeholders? Were they the leaders who were genuinely interested in hearing others’ perspectives and ideas and demonstrated that they heard by asking good questions?

In my experience, I’ve found the best leaders I’ve known are those who actively listen and engage others. Early in my career, I was lucky to work with a leader who was very careful not to dominate meetings by speaking too much. I talked to her once about it and learned that she purposely sat back and let other people speak first. Being very aware of her positional power, she didn’t want to dampen the conversation by putting her perspective on the table first. She drew out the quiet people and she asked good questions. It probably helped that she was an anthropologist first before moving into academic leadership. She was greatly respected by the university community for her strong leadership. From her example, I learned that really great leaders listen more and talk less.

In our workplaces, people want to feel heard. They want to feel valued for their contributions. It may seem overly simplistic, but the most effective way to help people feel heard and valued is to listen. Employees and stakeholders will be more likely to listen to you, when you are actively listening to them. I think it’s a sound strategy for cutting through the noise. What do you think?

Do you have any practical advice for leaders who are practicing listening more and talking less?

Anita Rios