One of the seven pillars of cultural greatness is listening. In fact, the companies that know how to listen best and are among the top 5 percent of businesses worldwide. By happy coincidence, that is where you’d like your enterprise to be. So, all you have do is open your ears at work, right? Well, not so fast. You can’t do it alone. In workplaces where good listening happens, there is a lot of subtle magic going on.

Chris Dyer

Chris Dyer

To be effective at what they do—whether buying, selling, or consulting—companies must ensure that everyone in the communication ecosystem (leadership, employees, vendors, customers, and shareholders) is able to receive and understand information from other people. This is not the same as simply hearing and processing language. Rather, all of the relevant players must absorb and clearly understand what others are expressing. And, they must confirm that they have correctly understood the intent of the communication. Each party or group owns half of the responsibility here!

In my company, for example, I know that some people will hear my message more readily if I choose the correct communication method. Some people prefer email, others text, IM, or verbally delivered information. The more important the message or the larger the group, the more options I use. It may sound hit or miss, but multiple shots fired in the right general direction are likely to gain notice.

If my message is for a select few people, though, and I know their preferred methods of communication, I use those. I choose what I know will be the most effective method of being heard. Now everything that I can control has been done to ensure the message is delivered and understood. This sets the listener up for success!

Other good listening ideas include:

  • Simplify. Streamline, eliminate, and merge communication systems that are not effective. Also, if you can say it in one sentence, do that. Less is more.
  • Forecast. Before making a change, ask your team, “Will this improve communication or complicate the process?”
  • Educate. Train your staff for understanding and adoption but be prepared to enforce good listening when needed.
  • Focus. Listen to understand, not to respond. If you start to hear what someone is saying, and immediately think of five things to tell them, you have stopped listening. If you are waiting for them to stop talking so you can respond, you are not listening with purpose.

We can’t always assume the other party will do their part. Make sure you were heard and that you understood what was said to you. How? Ask questions and reiterate key points: Did you mean...? I heard you saying....

When you do not clearly understand, don’t be afraid to ask someone to put it another way. A little extra effort at the start will save you frustration, time, and money at the end. This is how the top 5 percent get ahead. Meaningful listening entails both parties confirming that the message was heard and understood.


Chris Dyer is the author of The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance and profits, out now published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99