Employee Engagement Will Skyrocket with This Magic Two-to-One Formula

Turn Active Listening into a Priority

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

When we say, “leader”, the first thing that often comes to mind is a great orator, a person that can motivate with inspiring speeches and witty comebacks. This idea, too, is reinforced by Hollywood – “Captain, my Captain!” and the magic of the person who says just the right thing at the right time. It makes sense. It wouldn’t be a very exciting scene zooming in on the leader who is listening.

Listening is passive. There’s no tension.

Actually, listening, real listening, is anything but passive. And it is the only way to learn: about your employees, production problems, great initiatives, or conflicts. And there’s no technology, no app, no short-cut to old-school listening.

Have you forgotten? Try these 6 tips to become a better listener and increase employee engagement.

1. Are you a selective listener? Probably. We all are. Some people become white noise, and others’ voices stand out in the hum. Don’t turn listening off and on like a radio, depending on the station. Be aware of your biases and work extra hard to listen to those you’re used to not listening to. Listen to those you don’t like.

2. Back to basics:

  1. Close your mouth. Yes. It’s true. You can’t listen when you speak.
  2. Make eye contact. Don’t be distracted by all the things zooming in your head. Focus on who is speaking.
  3. Take notes if needed.
  4. Repeat, in your own words, what the speaker has just said.
  5. Ask clarifying questions.


3. Be present. It’s normal for a leader to have her head in a thousand problems. It’s hard to focus. So if you’re not ready to listen, communicate this to the person. “Can we talk when I clear this inbox?” Then set aside a time. When that time does come, inbox cleared or not, put your computer on sleep, your cell phone in the drawer, and go back to the basics.

4. Have you become a therapist? The danger of a good listener can turn a constructive conversation into therapy. Draw your boundaries. Keep the conversation on task. Give the conversation structure.

5. For better or for worse. Being a leader doesn’t mean you get to turn off the bad news or walk away when you’re being criticized – fair or not. You especially have to be listening at this time. When somebody is on a rant, it’s critical to keep your cool, model leadership through poise. Count to ten. Don’t react. STOP. Stop. Take a minute. Observe. Proceed. Ask clarifying questions. Make sure the speaker knows she’s been heard. And, if need be, schedule a follow up when you have time to go over what’s been said and want to respond.

6. What are you not saying? What does your body language say? Are you looking at your watch? Fidgeting? Your non-verbals are speaking louder than you think. Ask a trusted colleague to help you detect your non-verbals when you’re not listening.

By honing listening skills – skills everybody has but might not often employ – leaders have a unique opportunity to pass from good to great. And great leaders are the principal actors in employee engagement.




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