7 Ways to Create a Listening Culture

If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly make every employee in your organization proficient in one behavior what would that be? Critical thinking? Customer-orientation? Sales?

No matter which behavior I consider, I’m hard pressed to come up with one that would be more impactful with just a bit more listening.

Listening transforms relationships.

Listening makes customers feel valued.

Listening gets to root cause.

Listening attracts business.

Yet, in most organizations I work with, people talk a heck more than they listen. Most of us can’t claim that we consistently listen well.

So how do you set out to build a culture of effective listening? Start with these 7 steps.

1. Tell the Truth

Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS. If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say. A culture of real listening can only happen when people can count on one another for candor. Encourage transparency and truth telling, starting at the very top.

2. Be Interesting

Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories  Ditch the 35 page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.

3. Show Up Like an Anthropologist

Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove, they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and make meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more executives approached their field visits with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.

4. Be Interested

To encourage deeper listening, be a great listener. Approach conversations with empathy and compassion. Let your words, body language and actions show that you’re very interested in who they are and what they’re saying.

5. Reward Transparency

If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Genie feedback, where the poop is disguised in so much packaging you can’t even smell it. Thank people for bringing you the truth. Surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Promote those willing to speak up.

6. Encourage Field Trips

One of the best ways to build a listening culture is to have encourage cross-departmental visits. Give your teams permission to visit their counterparts upstream or downstream in the process. Let them share their challenges, pressures and successes.

7. Get Social

Social media provides amazing opportunities to listen to customers. A good social care strategy listen’s beyond the # and the @. Social platforms can be great for internal listening as well. One of my clients recently implemented Yammer and is delighted by the informal conversations forming and how they can trend what’s most important on people’s minds.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

5 Comments

  1. What a great metaphor – be an anthropologist. What a great reminder that listening means we don’t come to the table with all of the answers but reserve at least a little corner for learning, being influeced by others and change.

    ~ Alli

    • Thanks, Alli. I’m playing with this concept of building an entire listening culture for a workshop I’m doing with a group of CEOs next week. I’m steeping in this topic quite a bit (as you will see from the upcoming posts). I’m excited to have the LGL village thinking with me on ths. Namaste.

  2. This is a great topic.

    How often do we listen to respond rather listen to hear. Then when the speaker notices us trying to interrupt they speed up. Points get confused and both parties leave thinking, what a waste of time.

    What if the listener took ownership for getting the key points of what was being said?

    Thanks for providing some great actionable points Karin.

  3. Love how you encourage leaders to be anthropologists! This line is memorable: “Ask great questions and make meaning from the responses.”

    It takes a strong mind to maintain a sense of curiosity about the world around us, especially when we’re distracted by other things and feel stress. Questions are among the greatest tools we have to unlock the mysteries of our own mind, as well as those around us.

    Great post!

  4. Love your anthropologist metaphor too, Karin! That is exactly what leaders need to remember when connecting with others because we can’t get the full story without strategic listening and asking questions.

    I also would add that using the proper body language and facial expressions that show we are really focused and listening could be helpful. Good eye contact and slightly leaning in. Of course, not doing other things while someone is talking to us.

    Thanks Karin for a great article!

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