Tips for practicing one-on-one listening to improve internal comms
Pulse surveys and suggestion boxes are valuable tools, but there’s true power to listening in its purest form.
Companies are recognizing listening’s impact on retention, productivity, and culture by installing macro-organizational listening strategies. Strategies include designating a chief listening officer, hiring listening consulting firms and employing organization-wide listening mechanisms like engagement surveys; pulse-taking during exit, onboarding, and post-merger interviews; crowdsourcing methods like suggestion boxes or polling on specific topics.
However, don’t ignore the pivotal role that you play as an individual manager. Your efforts are what weave listening into the fabric of the institution by ensuring that it’s not merely an annual or quarterly corporate event, but an ongoing management practice. As a manager, you likely recognize the value of active listening as an essential sales and marketing external communication competency for surfacing customer needs, handling objections, and building trusting relationships and brand loyalty. But do you underestimate listening’s vital role in internal communication?
You surely understand how to actively listen: don’t interrupt, suspend judgment, ask open questions, paraphrase content as an accuracy check, and reflect emotions to convey empathy. But are you short-sighted about when and where you should be listening?
Everyday listening opportunities
A 2016 Deloitte report cautioned, “The biggest challenge for HR in leading engagement programs is shifting from a transactional, once-a-year mindset, to an ‘always on,’ continuous listening approach to monitoring engagement.” In order for listening to become part of corporate culture, it’s up to you as a manager to make it an everyday personally-owned commitment rather than an “out there” HR strategy. Which of these listening tactics have you used, and what others can you implement as part of your management tool kit?
- Meetings: Paraphrase people’s contributions and summarize decisions, action agreements and sub-group viewpoints. Ask the team to paraphrase before disagreeing with a viewpoint. Ask individuals for feedback on their understanding of announcements, information or requests you shared. At the end of meetings, spend five minutes to debrief the team’s group process, especially its use of active listening.
- Email and voicemail: Paraphrase senders’ thoughts and emotions in your reply before responding.
- Brainstorming and solutioning: Foster innovation versus stifling ideas by listening instead of judging ideas.
- Delegating: Check for and paraphrase concerns, objections and questions so that you dialogue rather than monologue and gain true commitment versus mere compliance.
- Town halls: Supplement company-wide sessions with your own “local forums.” Paraphrase questions to guarantee understanding, ensure everyone hears the query, and gain time to formulate your response. Companies like 23andMe conduct “Free to Be Me” sessions so people can vent about non-work current event concerns.
- Confronting: When giving corrective feedback or holding someone accountable for breaking a commitment, paraphrase their defensive reactions before re-stating your concern. It’s counter-intuitive but when you go fishing, you don’t fight a resistant fish; you give it line, giving up control to stay in control.
- Interventions: If a team seems flat or disengaged, stop action. Sit down and paraphrase the non-verbals (e.g., “I’m noticing folks on cellphones, leafing through the newspaper, looking at their watches, and seeming disengaged. Let’s talk about what’s up.”) Then listen your tail off!
- Open door advising and guiding: When serving as a sounding board to explore a person’s work problem or sort out a decision, make sure you listen well enough and long enough to understand the heart of the real problem and that the person has vented their emotions enough to engage in rational problem-solving before giving your input.
- Mediating: When individuals or groups are at odds, use active listening to manage conflict. First, paraphrase opinions and feelings to facilitate and de-escalate volatility, and gradually invite the parties to do so.
Faulty or missing managerial listening costs companies millions, torches engagement, erodes trust, muffles productivity and feeds turnover. You can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem so that employees don’t quit and leave –– or worse, quit and stay.
Rick Brandon, Ph. D., is president of Brandon Partners, a global corporate training firm offering workshops on interpersonal and political/organizational savvy. His new book is Straight Talk: Influencing Skills for Collaboration and Commitment, which comes after his Wall Street Journal bestselling Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success.