Managers: Listen Up!

This is a part of the lawn that we don’t tend to be near in the morning. But Grace gravitated there yesterday. I was surprised to find her looking interested to go down the street in the direction of the walks we used to take on a daily basis. Managers who are alert, listen to subtle cues, and then take action, will be rewarded with higher performance from their employees. [Full disclosure: I recreated the picture later in the day because I didn’t have my camera on me at the time. Her posture was much more confident than you see here; I guess like most of us, Grace doesn’t like to pose for her blog pictures!]

Everyone knows (or at least they say they know) how important it is to be a good listener. But are you?

Would you, as a manager, be more effective if you were a better listener? You bet you would. So read on to see how. 

It’s easy to describe what good listening looks like: active eye contact, nodding of your head, acknowledgement of what was said by repeating the information back to the speaker, and taking action as a result of a conversation is proof that a person heard an exchange.

But it’s not easy to get yourself in the mindset to be a good listener. So it’s quite common for all of us to do a very bad job of doing something that we think is important — and that we find simple to do. Why is that?

I believe it’s because we don’t prepare ourselves to listen.

I’m guilty of it. I can catch my mind drifting when I’m doing two things at once, when I’m rushing due to a time constraint, or when I’m just not as interested in what the person is talking about that. Or maybe I’m thinking of what I’m going to say instead of concentrating on what is being said. It requires real focus to be present all the time.

And it’s not just words we need to be aware of. Body language and unspoken words can be just as important. Grace gave me an opportunity yesterday morning to test out my listening skills, and as I reflected on the entire situation, I realized how close I came to failing at listening to her.

For those who have followed the chronicles of our daily walk regimen, you know that our beloved daily walks have been disrupted by Grace’s resistance to go near the target shooting activities that started down the street from us. The noise of the gun shots has been too much for her to tolerate.

So yesterday morning, out of the corner of my eye, I caught her near the edge of our property, peering down in the direction we had gone for years, but that she has avoided for the last several months. She looked interested, but mostly I noticed she looked confident. She turned to catch my eye and she held the eye contact for several moments. Then she looked back down the street, and returned her gaze to me.

My first reaction was to keep walking and continue on with the thoughts of my day swirling in my head. But something snapped and my attention jolted back to her — I immediately knew something was different.

“OK,” I said. “Let’s go!!” Quickly I moved, not wanting to waste the moment. I gathered up my walking shoes and her leash and off we went. She had the familiar excitement that I’ve witnessed hundred of times, pulling at her leash, popping up and down in anticipation of the scents she was about to explore.

Nothing could have surprised me more with how comfortable she was as she moved toward and through the area that she perceived as dangerous territory (thankfully the neighbor was not shooting as we went by); everything seemed normal, like no time had passed at all.

But if I had missed the subtle signals she was sending me, we would have had yet another walk-less day. It makes me wonder if I’ve missed other days. Do I miss other opportunities to listen to her? What can we all learn from this?

Here are some tips I picked up from Grace that can help us all be mindful of more careful listening.

    • Be alert. Grace was in a different spot than I normally see her at that time of day, so it helped signal that something was different. We’ve never gone for a walk that time of day so it would have been easy to miss the connection, especially since my mind was on a million other things; going for a walk was not one of them!
    • Be open. I could have easily dismissed her stance without having any specific meaning to it. I had nearly resolved in my own mind that she may never want to brave her walks again, but I was wrong. What if I had thrown her a quick glance, and instead of wondering what was going on, called her back to the doorway that I was headed to, not giving her body language any more thought? Luckily, something told me she was talking to me, and even though I wasn’t sure what she was saying, I was open to it. Think about exchanges in your workplace; remember to be open to possibilities that you had given up on.
    • Take action and do it quick! I had to seize the moment, when she was ready. My morning was planned out with a number of things I wanted to accomplish before my first call at 8:30. It was about 7:40 when we were outside and any deviation would mean I just couldn’t get done what I wanted. But I had to weigh my options. Could I get those other things done later? (Yes.) Was this important to her? (Yes.) Was this important to me, as a way to support her, show I was listening, even though it threw my own schedule into disarray? (Yes.) The result was not just a walk. It was greater trust and understanding, something that always leads to better outcomes, whether in the workplace or not.

Good listening requires that we are attuned to others, not just with our own needs. It requires being alert, open, and taking action. It’s not easy to do that every moment of every day. So we have to find ways to remind ourselves to do it more frequently and more effectively.

Make sure you walk your talk.

If you’d like to discover more ways to do this, check out my upcoming workshop where we’ll explore more on this topic.


Smart Tips Served Straight to Your Inbox

Want to build healthy, productive workplace relationships??? Join our community of Graceful Leaders/Managers and get access to tips, insights, and resources right in your inbox.

BONUS: Sign up now and receive a FREE animal-inspired gift: “3 Management Tips from Dog!"

Share with a friend using one of the buttons below. Then sign up so you can receive stories, tips, and guidance to help you develop healthy workplace relationships in your organization!


  1. Leslie Fish on July 27, 2012 at 8:59 am

    Thank you so much for the reminder on listening! I’ve recently become a “long-distance grandma” to my son’s step-daughter. In my last phone conversation with her I found myself thinking about all I wanted to tell this 11-year-old, and not paying as much attention to what she was telling me. I almost missed how much she is looking forward to the start of school, and yet how aprehensive she is, to make new friends in her new environment. That took our conversation in an entirely different direction, but reaffirmed that we’ll remain close across the miles.

    • Robin on July 27, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Thanks, Leslie. You emphasize an important point. We can sometimes think we’ll make more of an impression on someone when we talk at them, but really we make the biggest and most lasting impression when we listen and truly hear what they have to say. Thanks for sharing your story. Sounds like that special girl had a lot she wanted to say to you!

  2. Judy Ringer on July 28, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks, Robin! Just a great article on listening, and on how hard it is to notice when something is different from what we expect to see. We don’t usually see when people (or animals!) change, and we miss the opportunity. It was fun to read about how you caught it! Much ki!

    • Robin on July 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Judy, I agree, it’s sooooo hard to get out of what we see as “normal” to accept a new reality. Truly does make me wonder how many new realities we miss every day due to our lack of being open to them. Thanks for being here!

  3. Marian Thier on July 28, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Good review of such an important and complex skill. I’d add that it’s crucial to know how you listen since each of us has a distinct listening style that influence what we pay attention to and what we ignore.

    • Robin on July 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      Excellent comment and thanks for putting a focus on that. Self-awareness is certainly the first step to any change, isn’t it? Thanks for stopping here and sharing your thoughts!

  4. LeeAnn on July 31, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Robin – I love this story most as an example of what an amazing mom you are to Grace!! I immediately thought about how I also notice things like this with my Gracie, but that I do NOT listen as well to humans. I need to change that – thanks for the reminder!

    • Robin Eichert on August 1, 2012 at 9:01 am

      Thanks so much, LeeAnn! We could all use reminders, that’s for sure!

Leave a Comment