Why you hear only about half of what your employees say

Don’t confuse being silent with being a good listener.

Of course, that ratio can go up or down depending on who you’re talking to. For example, I know that when my mother talks to me (“Steven, you need to lose weight; Steven, you need to watch your cholesterol; Steven, you need to join AA”), I hear about 5 percent of what she says, and listen to about 1 percent of that. So if she says 1,000 words, maybe two make it through to my brain. Usually “good” and “bye.”

But other people make up for that. For instance, when someone is talking to me about, say, cooking, or wine, or the Chicago Cubs, I’m hanging on every word.

So, on average, I’d say that research is probably pretty accurate. Now let’s apply the equation to employee communications.

Imagine that you meet with an employee for an hour, and the employee talks to you for half that time, about 30 minutes. That means: You heard about half of what the employee said—about 15 minutes worth. And of that 15 minutes that you heard, you really listened to only about 7.5 minutes.

Which means you are missing 22.5 minutes of feedback from your employee. What did you miss? Probably a lot, but you’ll never know, right?

Wrong. You’ll find out eventually . . . the hard way.

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