How well do you listen? And while you’re listening, how present are you?

Are you distracted by a sundry of devices like your Apple Watch vibrating to tell you to stand or get moving, your mobile phone alerting you to a news headline or incoming text, or maybe your computer alarm signaling your next meeting?


We all like to pride ourselves on being good listeners. However, the question is not how good of a listener are you, but rather, what are you listening to? I’m sure you’ve experienced talking to someone who seems really engaged, but their eyes are somewhat glazed over, they nod or say “uh huh” at the wrong places or have a far-away look in their eye. You know they’re distracted and only partially listening to you while listening to their own internal conversation. It could be about work, about what’s for dinner tonight, about why you’re even talking to them in the first place, or what they’ll say next.

According to HBR and other studies, business results and performance depend on powerful and intent listening.

Studies have proven that powerful listening can (among other things):

  • Increase staff morale
  • Gain information
  • Develop trust
  • Maintain business reputation
  • Reduce conflict
  • Motivate employees
  • Elevate performance


Try as you might, staying 100% present is typically an effort in futility as we are continually distracted. So instead, try to imagine peeling away the layers of an onion in the conversation.

Imagine that what the person is saying is at the center of the onion. In order to get to it, you may need to identify and discard some outer layers (distractions) that are in the way of getting to the juicy, edible part of the onion. Sometimes the outer skin sticks to you and it’s hard to shake free. Similarly, our mind will continue to throw distracting thoughts in our earshot and it’s difficult to keep it open and blank.


Leaders focus on being interested, rather than interesting. Leaders are interested in listening to what others have to say, rather than listening to themselves.

Great leaders are authentic and bring a purposeful curiosity. What this looks like is:

  • Asking what’s important to the person and why. You peel a layer and go deeper.
  • Listen to what the person needs and what matters to them
  • Listen for common commitments and what’s possible

Caution—you will fade in and fade out—you’ll be present, then gone. Admit you missed their last comment because you were momentarily distracted. This will elevate trust and the likelihood of their wanting to share, engage, and ultimately, produce better results.

Managers deal with the outer layers or what’s right in front of them. Leaders work towards discovering something yet to be uncovered or fully accessed. The juices and scents of the onion may start to emerge, but it takes work to keep peeling. You may even cry along the way, and, you’ll know when you get to the part that matters.

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