By Michael Holland –  

A while back, I read this story about a school teacher. . . a kindergarten teacher who at the end of an exasperating day had to put boots on all 31 of her students before she sent them out in the snow.

As she struggled to lace up the last boot on the foot of the 31st student, the child looked at her and said, “These aren’t my boots.”

Thinking that she would have to go back and re-boot the whole class, she furiously ripped off the boots only to hear the kindergartener say, “They’re my sister’s boots, but my mom let me wear them today.”

Are you really listening to what people are saying to you?  Truly listening, to seek and to hear?  Or are you jumping to conclusions regarding what is being said due to your personal stress load and perceived lack of time?

Listening is one of those skills we learned early in life.

We’ve “refined” the skill over time, but maybe the refinement has been more of filter management than enhancement of skills. Here are some possible reasons as to why we’re not good listeners.

  • It’s difficult to put aside our own self-interest
  • There’s a gap between speaking and comprehension
  • We don’t have the proper training and/or practice to be effective listeners
  • We just don’t care

Testing the Waters

Your employees “test the waters” when they are talking with you to see if you are really listening. They may start out with “safe” topics, or share what they think you want to hear, leaving valuable information below the surface, deciding on how you respond if they will share it or not.  So check your listening – which is largely gauged by how you respond in a conversation.

  • Do you respond by asking open ended questions like, “Tell me more.”
  • Do you seek your employee’s perspective by responding with “What do you think?”
  • Or do you tend to jump in and give your opinion and proposed solution?

Responding by listening more and talking less will likely increase the degree of openness you get from your employees.  So sit back, relax and ask a few questions to increase your listening and depth of understanding.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • So, who’s the 31st employee in your world today?  Were they kind enough to let you know that you weren’t listening?
  • After taking the Basic Listening Skills Self-Assessment (see below) how did you feel about your score?  Have a peer manager take the same assessment and debrief with each other on your respective scores and action plans.
  • How well does your boss listen to you?  How does this impact you?