How to be a good listener

06 June 2018 -

Listening at workBeing a bad listener costs the world £5.2 trillion pounds. Here’s how to improve your listening skills

Jermaine Haughton

Your employees think you’re a bad listener. Gallup’s ‘State of the Global Workforce’ report revealed just 15% of employees worldwide feel engaged in their work because managers don’t listen to them.

Faking attention, appearing distracted or criticising the speaker are just some of the poor listening behaviours that can puncture a hole in team morale and productivity – and the estimated cost to global productivity is £5.2 trillion.


Poor listening has led to UK bosses losing out on up to 18,000 business opportunities a year. The EveryDay Innovation Report found the average employee suggests six ideas per year to their employer, but less than half of the suggestions (43%) are acknowledged. Of the ideas that are acknowledged by employers, more than one in three (39%) are implemented and go on to positively impact the way the organisation works.


In her first year as CEO and president of Linking the World International, Mina Chang recognised that face-to-face discussions were essential to managing her team successfully.

She told Forbes: “I spent the first year (as the company’s chief executive) on the road, traveling from Haiti to Kenya to Thailand to Nigeria to the Philippines and everywhere in between. In my travels, I met with our teams on the ground, asked questions, and listened to their concerns. These face-to-face interactions built trust, understanding, and a real sense of a shared mission, and this has made all the difference in the world.”

Chang’s experience is backed up by recent research. In our report on 8 traits Google identified as belonging to toxic bosses, we shared that emotional intelligence was one of the strongest predictions of successful management. Google insisted managers consider whether employees felt comfortable having conversations with them.


However, long hours and spiralling workloads can often be a barrier for line managers responsible for face-to-face conversations. From CMI’s Quality of Working Life report we know that managers are already working an extra 44 days unpaid per year as they resort to responding to heavy workloads and incessant emails after hours.

Operations manager Sophie Jones, who works at a leading sports and leisure chain, says her responsibilities initiating improvements to facilities and handling the requests of high net worth clients typically dominate her schedule. She said: “Myself and other management colleagues often find ourselves doing overtime to just to meet our basic objectives. This makes spending meaningful time with my 10 staff members especially hard to do.”

Read more: What we discovered in the Quality of Working Life report

When time is found to engage with personnel, Cash Nickerson, author of The Samurai Listener, says managers can maximise their active listening by adopting the behaviours prescribed by the ARE U PRESENT acronym.


1. Awareness: Top managers ensure they show awareness. They are fully focused on the conversation at hand, rather than being distracted by their phone or other work duties.

2. Reception: Keeping an open mind allows managers to be receptive of new information.

3. Engagement: Ensure both parties talk to each other back-and-forth during an interaction.

4. Understanding: Listen with the intention of understanding what the other person is saying and their stance.

5. Persistence: Try to maintain focus on the conversation by avoiding distractions even if the conversation is lengthy.

6. Resolution: The best managers end discussions with key actionable steps to bringing a solution to the concerns expressed.

7. Emotions: “Emotions can work for you or against you,” says Nickerson. “Recognise their roles and learn to discern them and their effect on your ability to hear others.”

8. Senses: Be aware of the opposite person’s nonverbal cues, such as their body language or the tone of the speaker. This will help you understand their meaning.

9. Ego: By treating the speaker as an equal, managers can listen to the party more intently.

10. Nerves: Finding a relaxed environment may help temper stress or tension that can get in the way of being able to listen.

11. Tempo: Matching the tempo of the speaker can help make them feel more comfortable and facilitate revealing conversations.

Image: Shutterstock

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