Karin’s Leadership Articles

How to help your team navigate the narratives and encourage voice

7 Ways to Create a Listening Culture

by | Oct 12, 2015 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

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?  What about listening? What if you had a listening culture where everyone truly stopped to hear what the other person was saying?

A listening culture transforms relationships, makes customers feel valued, gets to the root cause, 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 seven approaches.

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.

Learn the art of asking great courageous questions.

5. Reward Transparency

If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Drama 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 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.

2021 Update on Creating a Listening Culture

Over the last 5 years since the writing of this article, I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of research and writing on both sides of the listening and speaking up dynamic. And, have worked with leaders all over the world in our leadership development programs.

We’ve also written two books since then. Winning Well: A Managers Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul is a PRACTICAL  guide for human-centered managers to get breakthrough results.

And our latest book Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates is based on our extensive research with the University of North Colorado. You can download the first chapter and the foreword by Harvard’s, Dr. Amy Edmonson here.

Courageous Cultures Research Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Alli Polin

    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

    • Karin Hurt

      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. Dallas Tye

    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. LaRae Quy

    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. Terri Klass

    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!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Virtual Leadership Training Programs


Join the Let’s Grow Leaders community for free weekly leadership
insights, tools, and strategies you can use right away!


Join the Let’s Grow Leaders community for free weekly leadership
insights, tools, and strategies you can use right away!

Where in the World are
Karin & David?

Where in the World are
Karin & David?

Other Related Articles