Stop Talking! Four Tips to Build Trust Through Better Listening

by  Randy Conley  |  Leadership Development

“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of  their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

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What People Are Saying

Eric Dingler  |  04 Jan 2013  |  Reply

I really struggled with point 4, Stay In The Moment.

I’m not as good of a multi-tasker as I’d like to think I am.

I would continue stabbing away at the keyboard or reading an email as staff would stand or sit on the other side of monitor and talk “with” me.

Last year, I rearranged my office and moved my computer to a side table. I’ve retrained my staff to approach my office, knock softly if I’m working at my computer, and allow me a minute or less to finish what I’m doing. I promise to then turn away from computer and give them 100% of my attention. This keeps me from forgetting an important point I was just about to type. It let’s my team know they and what they are bringing to me is important to me. Everyone on my team brought this change up at end of year one-on-ones. They all shared how much more accepted it made them feel.

Randy Conley  |  04 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Hi Eric. I’ve struggled with that same issue in the past and I commend you for taking action to fix it! I do something similar with my staff visit my office. I put my phone on “Do Not Distrub” and have a small round table where we meet so I’m forced to get up from my desk and away from the computer. I’ve also had to work hard at not letting my mind wander and being an active listener.

Take care,


Mike Henry  |  04 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Randy, thanks for the great reminder. It’s so easy to think past the current moment and miss the treasure of the person right in front of you. Great, challenging post. Thanks. Mike…

Randy Conley  |  04 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Thank you Mike! Viewing the person in front of you as “treasure” is a great perspective to have!


Mike Henry  |  19 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Testing comment replies

Jon Mertz  |  04 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Great points, Randy. Knowing each person’s story is an essential one to do, as there is a context in which people are working within. What I mean is life is happening and, at times, they are trying to do their best work while also trying to balance a life challenge. It is not letting people slide, but it is showing empathy and trying to assist where appropriate. In doing this, trust is enhanced.

It may be a different twist to this point, but it is one to consider in the mix.



Randy Conley  |  04 Jan 2013  |  Reply

You are absolutely right Jon. Often times the way we see people behaving at work is just the tip of the iceberg of the other circumstances going on in their lives and leaders need to be sensitive to that fact.

Thanks for your insights!


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