Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Improving the Workplace

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

Two out of every three employees believes management isn't listening to them.

One day a concerned husband visited his doctor. He said, "Doc, I'm really worried. My wife appears to be going deaf. She never hears me and I don't know what to do." "Here is what I want you to do," said the Doctor. Go home and stand about 15 feet away from her and say something. If she doesn't hear you, walk about 5 feet closer and try again. Keep on doing this until she hears you. This will help us determine the severity of her hearing loss."

So the man went home. He peered into the entrance to the kitchen and saw his wife chopping some vegetables near the sink. He said to her, "Honey, what's for dinner?" There was no reply. He then took 3 large steps closer and said, "Honey, what's for dinner?" Again, there was no reply. Now, he started to get really worried. He walked up to right behind her and repeated for the third time, "Honey, what's for dinner?"

She turned to him and said angrily, "For the third time, we're having vegetable stew."

The problem was not that she couldn't hear, it was that he wasn't listening. This is a common problem in organizations. Management often complains that employees aren't listening, but it's really management who isn't listening.


Our research shows that 2 out of 3 employees don't feel management is listening to them. They resent managers for this and feel they are not being respected. Due to this lack of respect, employees become disenchanted and grow to resent and distrust their managers.



Here are some methods managers can use to become better listeners.

  1. Be Open-Minded

    All too often, senior managers assume that employees are incapable of coming up with useful suggestions. They mistakenly believe that employees are not as smart as they are and are out of touch with the realities of the business. They, therefore, ignore or discount employee suggestions. But managers should realize that employees have a different, not worse, perspective. They may well even have an insight that managers don't have. After all, they typically have much more frequent contact with customers and have more first-hand knowledge about the quality of the organization's products and services.

  2. Be Curious

    Senior managers should develop an inquisitive mindset. They should constantly be asking employees at all levels of the organization questions such as: "How are things going? What are customers saying? What improvements are needed? What do you suggest?"

  3. Use Unconditional Positive Regard

    If employees feel their ideas are not respected, they will clam up. Managers should adopt a consistent attitude that all employees, whether janitors or board members, are valuable sources of information.

  4. Use Open-Ended Questions

    Managers who are good listeners ask open-ended questions such as: "Tell me more about that. How do you feel about that? What do you think is causing the problem? What suggestions do you have?" These types of questions are more apt to lead to employee responses in the form of paragraphs rather than less useful one-word answers.

  5. Be An Active Listener

    Good listeners are not passive. They nod their heads at the appropriate times and ask many follow-up questions. They maintain strong eye contact and say things during the conversation such as, "I see" and "Uh-huh." In short, an actively listening manager can make an employee really feel that he or she is being understood.

  6. Use Restatements

    Restating what an employee has just said is a very useful technique that leads to the employee revealing more information. For example, if an employee were to say, "Our customers are not happy with our new telephone system," the manager would simply say, "Our customers are not happy with our new telephone system." Typically, once an employee hears the restatement, he or she will clarify, elaborate, or expand upon what had just been said. More importantly, the employee will feel that the manager is really listening.

  7. Use Pauses

    This listening technique is very powerful. A long pause by a manager during a conversation with an employee will undoubtedly stimulate that employee to speak further on the topic.


Take a lesson from they guy that went to the doctor about his wife's supposed hearing problem. If you are not hearing your employees, it's probably because you're not listening. Becoming a good listener by using good listening techniques can lead to useful information and improve relationships you're your employees.

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