How to Put Those Ears to Use in the Workplace

A personal trainer at my gym recently offered me a free session. It came about because she wanted to help me work my core without jeopardizing my injured knee. I jumped on it. What a great opportunity.

She turned out to be pleasant and knowledgeable and gave me some helpful exercises to do. As is customary, at the end of the session she pitched me her fee for moving forward if I chose to hire her.

That, I’m afraid, won’t be happening.

Despite the positives I shared above, I did not feel “listened to” by this trainer. At the age of 50, I’m very clear on my objectives at the gym – build strength, stay healthy, release stress, generate endorphins. Anything else is a bonus. That includes losing pounds and inches and generally firming up.

In other words, I don’t go to the gym to be enslaved to a scale or a tape measure. I’m not trying to look like the photo-shopped model in the promotional poster. I like me and I want to keep me fit. But no matter how many times I tried to keep this trainer on that track, she went right to the same mindset I had when I was her age (mid 20s or so) – counting torturous pounds, calories, inches. Even though I understood the mentality, she did not hear me and it cost her a new client.

As a life coach who knows well the challenge of getting and keeping clients, it is often my encounters with others in service professions that prove to be my best marketing lessons. For example, I know which person to go to at my bank when I have an intricate question about my options because I had a negative experience with an employee who didn’t listen to me at all and set me up in an account that wasn’t a good fit. I learned the hard way.

My favorite boutique has a salesperson -- let’s call her Jan -- who clearly wants me to walk out of there looking chic and pulled together and better than when I came in. Another salesperson there is perfectly nice and knows fashion, but she is all about the sell. Of course Jan wants to make the sale, too, but when I tell her the long skirt makes me feel stunted and self-conscious, she listens. Even if I walk out of there with no purchase, she has established a relationship that will get me back there and probably soon.

This comes into play in other business relationships as well. When I work with clients who are running companies or departments, I like to point out that it is the listening that will take them from being really good to work for to really great to work for. This may seem like common sense, but it doesn’t always come naturally to people.

Let’s say you’re in a staff meeting and someone presents a new idea to the group. As the boss, you can react in several ways:

~ “Thank you for sharing that.” (You then move on with the meeting and the one who shared feels momentarily acknowledged but then dismissed because you’re not really considering it. How open might he be to sharing an idea in the future?).

~ “So are you saying that we should try approaching this in a more unconventional way?” (The one who shared nods in agreement and feels heard. Or, she shakes her head and clarifies her position, also making her feel that you heard what she said).

~ “Thank you for sharing that. So are you saying that we should try approaching this in a more unconventional way? Interesting idea. Anyone else have thoughts on this approach?” (Now you have an employee who feels acknowledged, heard and valued. And you’ve begun to cultivate an environment where ideas will percolate more freely and enthusiastically).

Authenticity is integral to this working. If you pretend to be entertaining someone’s idea just to keep peace, it will catch up with you. The person will pick up on your disingenuousness and the feel-good result you were seeking will be fleeting at best. Don’t learn to be a better actor, learn to be more open and engaged. Use eye contact. Be genuinely curious. Try not to let your mind jump to the next thing but to stay in the moment.

Not every situation calls for this kind of laser focus, but selectively listening and feeding back can help secure and keep clients, inspire more productivity from employees and, by the way, work wonders in personal relationships as well. Put yourself in the position of the person who feels he’s made a contribution or has said something of value. There is nothing like it.

It is the meaningful foundation for all we do.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to