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Listening in Short Order

Listening in Short Order

"Not taking time for listening is an excuse that brings long term implications."

By Mary Verstraete

There isn’t any short cuts when it comes to listening, however we can find ourselves short on time to listen.

Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

  • “I’m busy. Can you come back later?”
  • “I can’t talk right now?”
  • “I’m really busy, can you make this quick?”

Maybe these are statements you’ve communicated to someone who walked into your office and wanted to talk with you. Although the statements may represent the truth, often times they can be misconstrued. In other words, the person may interpret the experience negatively and assume that your don't want - or care - to listen. 

This can bring un-repairable damage to your work relationships because it erodes trust. Can there be a win-win relationship without trust? Dave Horsager, author of The Trust Edge puts it this way, “Without trust, the transaction cannot occur. Without trust, influence is destroyed. Without trust, leaders lose teams. Without trust, organizations lose productivity, relationships, reputation, talent retention, creativity, morale, revenue, and results.”

So, what do we do when our day is busy, yet people need our attention?

Here are three simple steps to express genuine interest, generate trust, and show authentic concern when you’re running short on time:

1.   Acknowledge the Person

  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Make eye contact and create an approachable moment.
  • Genuinely greet the person with a welcoming tone. “Hello Jordon. Good to see you.”

It takes less than one-second to complete these actions! Yet, the experience you are creating for your employee or direct report will have lasting effects.

2.   Invest Five Minutes

  • Sincerely inquire. What’s on your mind?”
  • Once the employee shares what’s on his mind, respond with genuine interest. For example, “That’s sounds serious—I recognize that this is important to you—to me as well. I really appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I have an appointment in five minutes, Jordon. Let's get something on the schedule as soon as possible and continue our conversation.”

Five minutes to demonstrate your leadership brand of approachability, genuine care and interest in their challenges, and giving value to the person. The last impact—your reputation of being approachable, trustworthy, and genuinely caring about your employees and their challenges will be known throughout your company or department. What would that be worth to you?

3.   Demonstrate and Generate Value

If you have an assistant who schedules your meetings, stand up from your desk and walk together with the person to schedule an appointment in your calendar. Example: “Marge, would you get Jordon on my schedule as soon as possible.“

If you make your own appointments, schedule an appointment prior to the employee leaving your office. Stand up and walk the employee to the door.

Thank him or her again for stopping in.

These gestures take less then two minutes!

What makes this important?


You are tangibly demonstrating that you care, he or she is valued, and the situation is important to you. What’s the return? Generating trust in you and your leadership—invaluable. We can never underestimate the impact of valuing a person.

The question left to answer: Is the short term investment of less than ten minutes worth the long term return toward your leadership effectiveness?

Mary is president and co-founder of the Center for Coaching Excellence where she writes, trains, and consults on effective and masterful leadership conversations.