Communication in business: Stop listening to what your clients, managers and teams are saying

Oscar Trimboli, Global Listening Leader
Confusion, conflict and chaos in the workplace are all a function of your inability to listen effectively. Communication is 50% speaking and 50% listening, yet only 2% of people know how to listen.

Key takeaways on how to be a better listener with Oscar Trimboli, Global Listening Leader

  • Listening is the willingness to have your mind changed.
  • Listening is situational, relational, and contextual.
  • Your job as a listener is not to make sense of what the speaker is saying, but to what they are not
  • In the West, most people are taught to listen for similarities in experiences and beliefs between themselves and the speaker; but a lot more can be learned by listening for differences.
  • Know your weak spots by pinpointing whether you’re a dramatic listener, a lost listener, an interrupting listener, or a shrewd
  • Are you giving attention or are you paying attention? Neither is right or wrong; it’s what’s appropriate in the moment.

Step 1: Become aware of your listening filters

  • Listen not just for similarities but also for differences
    • Instead of paying attention only to the familiar and what you have in common with the speaker, listen for distinctions and the unfamiliar.
    • Listening for differences directly leads to more effective business communication since you are keeping your ears open for gaps and shortcomings along your process or in the product or service you are offering.


Step 2: Know what kind of “listening villain” you are

  • Are you a…
    • Dramatic listener?
      • You value human connection; you struggle between sympathy and empathy; tend to “hog the spotlight” and make the conversation one-sided
        • Tip: Be empathetic (i.e. “I acknowledge that this is tough for you.) as opposed to just sympathetic (i.e. “I remember a time when it was tough for me, too.”)
      • Lost listener?
        • Easily distracted (especially by electronic gadgets); vague; unsure of your contribution to the conversation
          • Tip #1: Try switching off your notifications
          • Tip #2: Drink a glass of water every 30 minutes
          • Tip #3: Take three deep breaths before entering a conversation
          • Tip #4: Ask the host, “What is your expectation of me during this meeting?
        • Interrupting listener?
          • Hyperfocused on productivity and time
            • Tip #1: Count “1, 1000; 2, 1000, 3, 1000; etc.” in your head
            • Tip #2: Bite down on your tongue after each number
          • Shrewd listener?
            • Thinking you know the question while it’s still being asked; mainly ignoring context, subtleties, and vocal inflections; disproportionately represented in support functions (i.e. IT, finance, marketing, etc.)
              • Tip: Get out of your head and listen to the whole question before making assumptions. Your speaker can tell if your gears are turning.
  • You can find your own listening villain with Oscar’s 7 minute quiz, found here.

Step 3: Be an editor, not a therapist

  • People very rarely ever say exactly what they mean the first time they say it.
    • Listen for the keyword “actually”. This indicates that they are finally starting to say what they really want to say.
    • Your job as a listener is to hear what they mean rather than what they say.
  • Three replies to help your speaker better define what they mean:
    • “Tell me more.”
    • “What else?”
    • Silence (to give them permission to think their thought through)

Q and A on how to be a better listener

Q: Has your “listening villain” changed over time? Can villains be different based on the social setting?

A: Listening is situational, relational, and contextual. Your villains will show up differently in different environments and with different types of people.

Q: How does listening help to increase productivity?

A: With better listening in business, projects finish not only on time but, more importantly, well within the scope you actually wanted as well.

Q: Has social media ruined listening? How do we return to having a dialogue instead of simply taking sides and sowing division?

A: Social platforms are incentivized to pull apart rather than bring together. Understand that the core motivation of social media platforms is to amplify biases, pit red versus blue, etc. You start to listen only to people who have the same opinion as you. My prescription for you is, every Sunday, listen to podcasts and radio shows that you fiercely disagree with. Listening is the willingness to have your mind changed. I also follow accounts of people I disagree with. This will mess up the algorithm and take you out of your echo chamber. Use the technology; don’t let the technology use you.

Q: How can you know whether someone wants your input or simply wants you to listen?

A: When I’m not sure of the context of any conversation, I ask, “What would make this a great conversation for you?” When you have about ten minutes left in the conversation, you can ask, “How would you like to use the time remaining?” By doing this, you not only incentivize yourself to learn how to listen better; you will also be co-creating what is most effective for both of you.

Q: What’s a good, grown-up way of telling someone that while they are hearing you, they don’t seem to be listening to you?

A: As the speaker, when somebody is not listening to you, make eye contact with them and wait until they make eye contact with you. When they do, ask them, “Is this a good time?” Then listen. In most cases, this is all you need to do to reset their attention.