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Is A Sticky Note The Key To More Skilled Listening?

(June 19, 2023 Newsletter)

This past week, a client texted me to ask if I had any quick tips on being a better listener before she went into a meeting.

Here's what I texted her back:

  1. When you hear a word or phrase that’s particularly interesting, ask about it. “What do you mean by…” or “Tell me more about…” or “why…”

  2. When asking questions, keep them open by starting with words like “what, how, why” instead of posing your own theory in the answer, like “do you think that…”

  3. Reflect back what you hear before asking anything or commenting. “Sounds like you’re really excited about…” or “seems like that’s stressful.”

[Confession time: Over the last few years, since getting a life-changing deep dive into listening skills in my coaching training program, I've experimented with all kinds of ways to distill this key skillset into short posts for social media, webinars, and workshops. Some have resonated more than others, but each time I learn from both what's working and what didn't.

  • On the other hand, I have certainly found that clients who seek to become better listeners can do so through one-on-one or group coaching – dedicated time to reflect on their progress, try again, build on what they’re learning, get feedback from their environment, and measure impact over months.]

So how did that meeting go? I was heartened to get a text a few hours later that read “Great meeting :) I need a sticky note of those tips.” She continued,

  • “I think that he found this valuable because he got to reflect on his own experience instead of me giving him advice or trying to prove that [my company] is valuable.”

Maybe it's that simple. Maybe explaining a lot of theory about why listening is important and the many layers of listening that one can do overshadows the simple fact that inviting someone to tell you more about their experience, asking open questions, and reflecting back what you hear is enough.

  • Or maybe it’s about being reminded of how to be a skilled listener right before “money time.” Hence the sticky notes comment.

But I will add one more caveat. If I needed to give one more piece of advice beyond what’s I wrote in the text message, it would be this: you have to care.

  • You have to genuinely care about what the person is saying or else the connection will be limited.

  • And as the headline of this newsletter states, I assume that you want to deepen your connections, whether with colleagues, your team, your boss, or other key characters in your life.

As Stephen Covey says in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “It simply makes no difference how good the rhetoric is or even how good the intentions are; if there is little or no trust, there is no foundation for permanent success. Only basic goodness gives life to technique.”

A little gift: So here you go – you can download the reminders as a “sticky note.” Just promise you’ll let me know how it goes as you try them out.

  • As they say, “Use them well.”


The Coaching Corner

Seek the inverse

When you ask someone what they want, it's common to get an answer phrased in the negative. Most of us will take the answer on face value and continue the conversation from there. The cost? It's hard to plan action from the negative. Yes, we can stop doing something, but then what? Action-oriented answers need more clarity. So, next time your ears hear phrases that start with “I don’t want to…” or “I want to stop…” ask: "If that's the case, then what do you want?" Some examples and variations:

  • "I don't want to overthink it." --> "That's understandable. So what do you want?"

  • "I don't want to be so scared of messing up." --> "I hear that. Instead, what do you want?"

  • "I want to stop being such a people pleaser." --> "I'm sure there will be some benefits to that. What do you want to be instead?"

  • "I want to stop rambling on in meetings." --> "Sounds like an important goal. What does the opposite of rambling look like to you?"

  • "I can't work every night and weekend anymore." --> "It's important to take care of yourself. How much do you want to work?"


Last week I found myself exploring the delicate period when a new executive is settling in. I learned a lot from reading and listening to these three pieces:


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