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Helpful Straight Talking – Listen, understand, speak

“I’m not sure that we should do that.” Bernard made his statement and slowly folded his arms.

The room seem to stop, and everyone’s eyes drifted to Hazel, the boss who had shared the original idea to take the organisation forward.

Have you ever been there? Having your idea challenged as a leader? It is so easy to see it as a challenge of you, too. It is so easy to push back or dismiss. But there is a far more powerful way to speak with authority. It starts with listening... Listening to understand.

Let’s see how Hazel deals with it.

Hazel paused. Reflected.

“Tell me more, Bernard,” Hazel asked thoughtfully. She listened intently as Bernard gave his reasons.

“So, if I have understood you correctly, you are concerned because a) the timing of it follows after having dealt with a lot of pressures, b) staff need to be trained to higher levels to make it work and c) you would like to see taking time to help the staff rebuild the vision,” Hazel summarised. Bernard nodded in agreement.

Hazel understood his objections. It was not the principle that he challenged, but the timing and support of staff.

“So, it sounds to me like your concerns are about the timing of our initiative and ensuring staff are prepared and equipped. Is that right?” Bernard considered what she had just said. She was right, he didn’t really object to the activity, in fact he knew they needed something new to boost the organisation.

“Yes, that’s it. If we can get the timing right and equip staff to feel confident, then I think it could work.

The team then worked together for the next 40 minutes considering training needs and timescales. Hazel knew just the right person to head up the staff training. Bernard might wish he had kept quiet! But Hazel was glad he hadn’t.

Listen to understand

Stephen Covey, in his seminal book, ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, outlined habit number five as ‘Seek first to understand’. Many people just listen to hold a conversation, to answer back, and to put their point of view across. Listening to understand means deeper listening to truly understand what the other person is saying, what leads them to think that, and considering where the point of connection is to your perspective. You can then target what you say next as you know where someone is coming from so you can then build from their perspective back to yours.

Note in Hazel’s example how she summarised or paraphrased the key points in her own words. This allows the person to know that they have been listened to as well as to consider what their key really points are and if the person has understood what is important.


When you know where someone is coming from, you start from where you can connect to them. For example, in conversations, once you hear of a shared interest, that is where you begin the conversation. The same happens when you listen to understand. Where do I share common ground? Where can I build from in what they have said back to my idea? When we start from points of connection, we are less likely to get resistance, as the collective idea we end up forming includes their perspective. It feels like theirs.

No connection

Sometimes there is not a connection and you don’t share the same view. However, by listening, you show them that you respect them. So, we start with “I hear your view of X & Y. Thank you for sharing it. However, due to reason Z, I think we should take it forward in this way.” They may not agree or like it, but they are more likely to come with you as you listened to and acknowledged their view.

Listening to the deep

It’s very easy to hear words. Listening takes it deeper. It’s not just about hearing the words; you are now seeking to understand them. Hazel summarised back what Bernard had said. She had listened and Bernard felt understood. The deeper layer comes when we really try to understand what sits underneath the words. What drives them? When Bernard talks about

a) the timing of the project after staff have dealt with a lot of pressures,

b) the need for staff to be trained to higher levels to make it work and

c) his desire to take time to help the staff rebuild the vision,

there is an underlying issue. Bernard has empathy for the staff and what they have been through. He wants them to be cared for and equipped, both in skills and capturing the vision. He ultimately also wants the project to do well. When we listen to understand we can get to the root of the issue for someone. When we then let them know we have understood what sits at the heart of the issue for them, we engage them.

Can we help you?

Challenging people? Challenging situations? How do you find confronting issues? We hope this blog has been helpful! If you would like some more targeted support to your leadership and raising or discussing issues, then do get in contact with us. We can run group training on this for your leaders or organise one-to-one coaching to help with techniques. Give us a call on 01449 710438 if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.

Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you. If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy, do let us know. Contact us now:


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