Volume 30, September 2003: Effective Listening

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2003 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Let every one be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger …” — James 1:19

“Hold a long interview with every employee, three or four hours, at least once a year, not for criticism, but for help and better understanding …” — W. Edwards Deming

“Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.” — Dr. Joyce Brothers


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Listening to learn.
  • Cultivating a mind that’s open to everything but attached to nothing.
  • Practicing the art of “thinking with,” not “thinking for.”
  • Engaging in deep listening – reaching for the subtext of the message.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Listening is a skill more difficult to practice than speaking, especially for the busy leader. It requires giving your full attention, which is emotionally and intellectually demanding. Yet the pay-offs are worth it. Good listening:

  • Facilitates shared understanding among people.
  • Builds an environment of trust.
  • Enables learning.
  • Helps build the self-esteem of those listened to.

Listening is a growth experience for all parties. For your health, find someone who can listen deeply to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

“I am chronically distracted by other business items. How can I give my attention completely?”
There is lots of room for distraction, when the mind can process speech four times faster than it is spoken. Fill the space with:
  • Listening for meaning.
  • Adjusting your posture and eye contact to extend attention.
  • Attending to the 85-93% of the message that is non-verbal.
  • Paraphrasing what you hear, for clarification.
  • Asking open (What? How?) questions for more information.
  • Focusing on the “feeling” in the message.
  • Taking notes (with their permission).
  • Relating what you hear to the person and the bigger picture
“So often I observe that no one is listening in our meetings. How can I change this?”
Employ a technique offered by the psychologist, Carl Rogers, which has been echoed by Stephen Covey. Set a ground rule that no one may offer their idea, until they have accurately restated the previous point or position of the last speaker. Note the changes in the quality of the discussion.
“I have trouble listening to some people because I know what they’re going to say. Is it wrong for me to avoid them?”
This is going to be a bitter pill. Rogers held that there was one major obstacle to communication: the voice of judgment. This barrier is the tendency to evaluate, judge, (dis)approve. Maybe the broken record keeps coming back at you because you have not conferred the respect of truly listening with understanding. This means seeing from the other person's point of view. Pulling on their end of the rope. This is called empathy. I heard it said that there is only one requirement for empathy: remember thathe/she is trying to survive, just like you. Once heard, there is no need to repeat.
“What do you do with a ‘rambler,’ who can’t seem to get to the point?”
When they draw a breath, restate or paraphrase key points. You are helping them outline their presentation, without adding your meaning. Then bridge back to the subject at hand. Or state that you are confused, and ask for a conclusion.
“How can I listen to an employee or customer who is hostile or excessively angry and directs it toward me?”
We address this in our Threat of Violence and Dealing with Angry Customers training. In order to defuse the anger, first align yourself with them. “I understand you have a concern about the company.” Give them control; establish a conduit of communication by listening. “Tell me about the situation.” Slow the pace of your speech (they will mirror you), ask open questions, use their name frequently (then they become a real person). Turn with them, like Aikido. Do not interrupt, push back, or make judgmental remarks. Express your desire to have them partner with you in a solution. Then generate options together. This is an excellent time for listening!


Listening is a key piece of our Leadership course: The New Leadership; our Culture course: ; our Conflict course: Conflict Course; and our Customer Service Course. Not to forget our Facilitation course.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Advice on effective listening and note-taking: Academic Advising.

Practicing listening skills: Active Listening For Mediators.

Library links on Interpersonal Listening: How to Improve Your Listening Skills.

Tips on listening, including sources of difficulty: Tips on Effective Listening.


  • Baker, Larry L. Listening Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
  • Bolton, Robert. People Skills. New York: Touchstone, 1979.
  • Conrad, C. Strategic Organizational Communication. New York: Holt, Rinchart, and Winston, 1985.
  • Daniels, T. & Spiker, B. Perspectives on Organizational Communication. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown, 1987.
  • Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986.
  • Hall, Edward T. The Hidden Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966.
  • Haney, William V. Communication and Organizational Behavior. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, Inc., 1973.
  • Jablin, R.; Putnam, L.; K. Roberts & L. Porter (Eds.). Handbook of Organizational Communication. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1987.
  • Knapp, Mark L. Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978.
  • Kreps, Gary L. Organizational Communication. New York: Longman, 1986.
  • Mehrabian, Albert. Silent Messages. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1971.
  • Pfeffer, Jeffrey & Sutton, R.I. The smart-talk trap. Harvard Business Review. May-June 1999.
  • Reardon, K. Interpersonal Communication: Where Minds Meet. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1987.
  • Sandwith, Paul. Building quality into communications. Training & Development. January, 1994, 55-60.
  • Rogers, Carl R. & Roethlisberger, F.J. Barriers and Gateways to Communication. Harvard Business Review. November-December, 1991, 105-111.
  • Weaver, Carl H. Human Listening: Processes and Behavior. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1972.
  • Wilmot, W. Dyadic Communication (3d ed.). New York: Random House, 1987.


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