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Listen more, interrupt less

A much-quoted study by Howard Beckman and Richard Frankel showed that the average time it took a doctor to interrupt a patient was eighteen seconds.

Is that enough time to hear how someone's feeling? Understand symptoms? Get to the crux of an issue? More than likely not.


It probably is enough time to draw predictable conclusions, offer a stock answer, and possibly miss the chance to uncover the details that really matter.

So how are your listening skills? Do you really take the time to actively take notice of what people are saying? Or do you presume and answer–or even worse interrupt–with predictability?

Get active

Active listening is one of the greatest tools in a leader’s armoury.

It takes work and practice but it’s vital to develop relationships and really understand what’s going on with your team. It shows you have genuine respect for the individual and the conversation you’re having.

Be in the moment–it seems obvious but be focused on the moment and think about your body language as well as your frame of mind.

Don’t judge–keep an open mind, be open to new ideas and perspective and don’t presume you know what’s going on or what the other person is thinking.

Reflect–don’t presume you’ve understood what the other person is saying, if you’re not sure paraphrase it back to them to check.

Clarify–ask questions to make sure you’re on the same page, active listening is about asking not telling.

Recap–at the end of the conversation reflect on the key themes you’ve covered and ask the other person to do the same. 

The power of AWE 

In ‘The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way you Lead for Ever’, Michael Bungay Stanier draws on years of coaching experience to give some incredible insight on how to have better, more productive conversations. 

In it he talks about the power of the ‘AWE question’. It seems innocuous to ask ‘And what else’ but it’s a great way to get more insight, more wisdom and create more possibilities out of thin air. 

Asking ‘and what else?’ works on a number of levels and it’s neutral nature ensures you don’t fall into the traps of bias, presumption and judgement. As Stanier puts it ‘It’s a self-management tool to keep your Advice Monster under restraints’.

It encourages conversation 

If you think the other person has more to offer it’s a way to draw it out without leading the conversation.  

It keeps you curious

Some might say lazy, some might say efficient, but it is a quick and easy method to have in your pocket to encourage new avenues in the conversation.

It buys you some time 

When you’re not really sure what’s happening or where the conversation is heading it’s a good way to buy some time to figure things out. 

According to Stanier it’s a question people ask too few times, but it’s important to keep it genuine and authentic, three times is a good rule, but experiment. If you get some good insight from asking it three times you’ve got a lot from just three simple words.

Getting the balance right

When we actively listen, we get much more from conversations, it encourages respect, openness and collaboration. 

As leaders when we balance our instinct to steer and offer advice, with a willingness to truly listen to new thoughts and perspectives, we unlock potential in individuals and in the business.

Are you encouraging an environment of active listening? Could you be saying less to ask more? And what else?