Developing Your Talent


Four Tips for Developing “Listening Decencies”

By Steve Harrison on May 30, 2013

Some people truly listen while others merely wait to talk. When considering the small decencies that enrich corporate culture, the act of listening means more than simply gathering and processing information. Instead, listening – active listening – is a fundamental display of respect and decency. It shows that you value what the speaker has to say and that he or she is important to you.

It’s not always easy to be a good listener, but here are a few tips that can help you pay attention:

  1. Focus. Don’t glance at your cell phone or read text messages. In a world where multi-tasking has gone off the charts, it’s easy for the mind to wander. Summarize what you hear with the speaker to make sure you’re capturing the message.
  2. Use positive nonverbal cues. Demonstrate your listening skills by leaning into the speaker, establishing eye contact and nodding in acknowledgement. Everyone wants to feel validated and understood.
  3. Talk less. As I discuss in my book, The Manager’s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Can Build Great Companies, don’t assume that talking more will solve problems any faster. Employees often develop an imaginative solution to a challenge because their managers have given them the space to “talk it out.” Listeners can learn a lot when we resist the temptation to interrupt or “fill” a silence.
  4. Close the conversation politely. A decent conversation closing will give the speaker an opportunity to summarize or re-affirm his or her thoughts. Try, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” or “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

Today, many of us are juggling a lot of responsibilities, so it’s no wonder we’re sometimes rushed, overwhelmed and abrupt with one another. All the same, civility is paramount to creating a great organization. Don’t let a thoughtless listening style create communication breakdowns that impede success.


Steve Harrison is a long-time management and corporate culture innovator. He is the author of “The Manager’s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Can Build Great Companies.” This is the fifth in an eight-part series from Steve addressing a philosophy of doing business that goes beyond the transfer of goods and services. It calls for a transfer of values known as small decencies. Steve is co-founder and Chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison and former chief ethics and compliance officer of Adecco Group.

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