Listen Up: How to Be a Better Manager Through Active Listening


What do employees want out of a manager? Clearly defined goals? The ability to give feedback directly to leadership? While important, neither of those come in at #1.

The number one thing employees want from their managers is to feel heard. 61% of employees say it is the most important quality of a manager. Most managers think they listen to their employees. But that isn’t enough. Employees need to feel heard, not just be heard.

Learn more about this original research on what employees really want from their managers in this e-book.

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People know when you aren’t listening, and it’s never a good thing. You’ve probably been part of a conversation when you just know the other person hasn’t really heard you. Employees know they deserve better. 

So how do you make it happen?

Employees want a collaborative approach to communication. One where leaders not only clearly communicate roles and goals, but also where leaders listen closely to the people they manage. But how do you make employees feel heard? One way is active listening.

Active listening is a communication technique that is used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.

Make your employees feel heard and be more engaged with these 8 active listening tips. When employees are happy, everyone wins.

  1. Pay Attention - When you’re speaking to an employee, set a comfortable tone and allow them the time to think and speak about what they are trying to say. Don’t rush the conversation.
  2. Use body language - This can be as simple as nodding or smiling while they talk. It’s also important to try and get them to keep the conversation moving forward with vocal cues like “Uh-huh” or “sure.” Even the phrase, “I hear what you’re saying,” simple as it sounds, can make a real difference.
  3. Reflect - Let employees know you’re listening by reflecting back what they say. Use phrases like, “so, what I am hearing you say is...” and then restate their key points. This also provides an opportunity to make sure you really do understand what the employee is saying so you avoid miscommunications.
  4. Ask questions - Asking clarifying questions makes you an active participant in the discussion. Clarifying questions may include: “Is this what you mean?” or “It seems like what your telling me is...” Clarifying questions show you’re listening, and they can also clear up miscommunications before they happen.
  5. Don’t Jump In - Keep an open mind. Don’t interrupt with your thoughts or advice, let your employee finish their thoughts. Even if you are an expert, or even just have strong opinions, let them speak first. You can respond later. Your commentary may cause interference that keeps them from finishing speaking at all.
  6. Respond - When your employee is finished speaking, you can (and should) respond. But make sure your response is thoughtful and considerate. You can disagree with them, you can offer them your opinion, but make sure you do so from a place of respect. Be firm, open, and honest.
  7. Make A Plan - Active listening is most important when you (or your employee) have an issue or concern to address. These “alignment” conversations should always be purposeful and result in a clear path forward. Use your conversations to craft a Way Forward that works for everyone involved.
  8. Follow Through - Actions speak louder than words. If you leave a conversation with action items, follow through. If your employee leaves with action items, check in with them to make sure they have what they need to follow through with their Way Forward.

Putting Active Listening into Practice

If you’re reading this article, you know active listening is important. You’ve read the tips, but putting them into action may seem easier said than done. Follow this example to put active listening into action in your conversations.

While walking through the office to get to a meeting, Bob, one of your sales employees, stops you and says he would really like to talk to you about a problem he has been facing with a potential client. You set aside some time later that day.

When Bob comes in to your office, you immediately you close your laptop so that Bob knows he has your full attention (pay attention). He explains that he has been having a hard time selling this potential client on the benefits of your company versus the competition. As he begins to explain this, you make eye contact and nod along with what he’s saying (use body language).

One point Bob brings up makes you remember when you were first starting out as a salesperson and a method you used to clarify these differences. Instead of jumping in right away, you decide to ask a few clarifying questions to make sure you’re understanding correctly (don’t jump in; ask questions). You’re sure glad you did because it turns out none of those tips that first came to mind would have helped with what Bob is really struggling with.

You sum up Bob’s concerns and articulate them back to make sure you fully understand; and you keep going until Bob feels you understood and hit each point adequately (reflect). Now you know you are in the right place to help, so you thoughtfully respond and offer a few suggestions that you think would be helpful (respond).

Together, you and Bob come up with a Way Forward that includes two things Bob can work on, and one thing you can do to help (make a plan). You make a note to do yours later that afternoon and to follow up with Bob the next day to ensure he has what he needs to move forward (follow through).

If employees feel heard, they feel valued, and a valued employee will stick around longer, and try harder, which is more likely to have an impact on your bottom line and on overall morale. Never underestimate the power of feeling heard.

What are your active listening tips? How do you help your employees feel heard?

Learn more about motivating your team in this e-book, designed for new managers, but relevant for all managers.


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