How to be the best listener in your office

We place so much importance today on tweeting, posting, sharing and commenting that we forget about the most important verb in the workplace.


This is not a third-grade lesson in making friends. We know we’re supposed to listen to each other, but how often do you actually sit quietly, put away your phone and hear every single word someone has to say?

Probably not often enough.

The best leaders at a company give their employees the floor and the time of day. They are patient, don’t interject and use employee feedback to drive the business forward.

Yes, bosses are in charge but that doesn’t mean they need to dominate every conversation.

How do you, as a leader (or emerging leader), develop expert listening skills? There are two steps:

  1. Develop a “listening mindset”
  2. Practice practice practice

What’s a “listening mindset”?

First and foremost, you don’t listen to employees so you can jump in and tell them what’s what. You follow their every word so you can follow up with thoughtful questions to take the conversation deeper.

The dialogue is a great opportunity to use my “6 Most Powerful Words in Networking.” They are:

  • WHO
  • WHAT
  • WHEN
  • WHY
  • HOW

Rather than jump in and take over the conversation, think about the questions you can ask that relate to what the person said most recently.

Wrong way to listen

Employee: The Richards account has been difficult from the start, and it’s obvious our team wasn’t on the same page.

Boss: I had a feeling the Richards project would be a problem because we’re had issues with other members of the Richards team in the past. This is what you need to do from now on…

The employee was on the verge of explaining what went wrong and, perhaps, offering a solution to a client management problem. But the boss pretty much took over the conversation and never truly listened.

Right way to listen

Employee: The Richards account has been difficult from the start, and it’s obvious our team wasn’t on the same page.

Boss: Why do you think it’s been difficult?

Employee: Well, we struggled to find times for everyone to meet so we had trouble communicating and keeping everyone on the same page.

Boss: How do you think everyone should have stayed in communication?

Employee: I think it was too much to ask the Richards team to meet in-person twice a month. Maybe once a month and regular conference calls instead?

Boss: I like that idea. Good thinking.

The boss allows the employee to talk further by asking questions (why and how are two of my “Six Most Powerful Words in Networking”).

A leader at a company doesn’t need to create brilliant ideas out of thin air. Why not listen intently to your team and let them share insights that can guide the organization?

The only way to gain new perspective is to stop what you’re doing and fall into a “listening mindset.”

Say to yourself, “I am going to be the listener and questioner for the next few minutes.” Let’s see what intel I can uncover.

Leader and Listener. Two words that look and sound awfully similar.

There’s a reason for that.

This column first appeared on