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Bonus Focus - The Importance of Making People Feel Heard


 By Laura Montocchio

Since you’re reading Bonus Focus, it’s safe to assume that you’re a good talker.  Both trainers and executive leaders need to be able to explain things clearly.  Of course most pharmaceutical and biotech trainers have also “carried the bag” at some point in their career—and we all know how sales people love to talk.  (I can say that because I resemble that remark!)

Being able to talk and express yourself is vital in your professional life, but it isn’t the only requirement for successful communication.  It’s equally important to listen and make others feel heard. 

        Good listeners are rare.  When you encounter someone who truly listens, it’s refreshing, and can even be a little disarming.  You find yourself trusting that person and you’re not even sure why.  When you feel heard you feel safe to open up more and more.  Perhaps most important -- because you feel heard and understood, you’re more likely to listen to what that person has to say.

Are you a good listener?  Take this quick quiz to evaluate your L.Q. (listening quotient!).


         True or False:

         --When a person says something I don’t agree with I often interject to make my     point.

         --During conversations, while the other person is talking, I’m often thinking about what I’m going to say next.

         --I often multi-task when I’m listening to someone.

         --When I hear someone stating their opinion, I sometimes decide whether or not I agree with them before they’ve even finished talking.

         --During conversations I sometimes have trouble picking up on the non-verbal cues I’m being given.

         --I sometimes pretend to listen to people when I’m really not interested in what they’re saying.

         --When I’m in a conversation with someone, I sometimes filter information and hear only what I want to hear.

         --Sometimes I answer too quickly, without first making sure I understood what the other person said.

         --I sometimes finish other people’s sentences for them.

         --When I’m at a party or other social event, I sometimes look past the person I’m talking to and think about who I want to speak to next.

         --I often enter into a conversation with a personal bias toward the subject matter.

         --When I’m having a conversation with someone, I tend to think about other things I need to be doing.


Still think you’re a good listener?  If you answered “true” to even one of those statements, then you’ve got room for improvement.  If you answered “true” to more than one, then you’re in the right place.  Keep reading!

Good listening skills are about much more than smiling and nodding your head a lot.  There are specific verbal skills you can use to not only help you tune into what the other person is saying, but also make the other person feel heard.  When a person feels heard, they’re more likely to engage in meaningful dialogue with you.  If you focus as much on creating dialogue as you do on delivering your own message, you’re much more likely to make an impact.  Whether you’re interacting with trainees, your boss or colleagues from marketing, making an impact is what it’s all about.  Said another way, by creating dialogue you create a dynamic in which your message ends up being more fully received. 

While listening might be considered an art, it’s also a learnable discipline.  Mastering these four simple skills can transform your interactions with others: 

1.  Non-leading, paraphrasing statements 

With a non-leading, paraphrasing statement, you restate in your own words what someone has just said to you.  Imagine going into a meeting with a colleague first thing in the morning.  Your colleague seems stressed, and she says, “I’ve never seen so much traffic in my life!  I was stuck on the freeway for an hour this morning!”  

If you were a bad listener you might ignore what she said altogether and start talking about something else.  Or, (perhaps more likely…) you might chime in and start talking about how you got stuck in traffic this morning, too, and how you were late getting to work and missed an important phone call, and how you would rather live somewhere with fewer people, blah, blah, blah.  But in doing that you would suddenly be making the interaction about you.  If you want to create dialogue, make sure your response isn’t about you, but rather is focused on the other person.  To prove that you’re listening and to make her feel heard you might instead choose to use a non-leading, paraphrasing statement like, “The traffic is terrible today!” or “The roads were really jammed this morning!”  

By doing this, your colleague instantly knows that you heard her.  She knows you’re a good listener, and she’s more likely to open up to you during the upcoming meeting.

2. Ask open, non-leading questions

An open, non-leading question is a question that doesn’t have a simple, one word answer.  Imagine you’ve spent months planning a training event.  Then one day your boss says, “I’m afraid that training event you’ve been working on might have to be cancelled.”

 A bad listener might react immediately by talking about how much work they’ve put into planning the event.  But a good listener might instead choose to precede any comment about his own concerns with an open, non-leading question like, “What’s going on?” or “Why do you say that?”

An open, non-leading question is just another way of saying “please tell me more” or “please explain what you just said.”  You’re asking the other person to elaborate and give you more information before you reply with your perspective or concerns.  Once again, it makes the other person feel heard, and shows him that you’re a good listener.

3.  Ask closed, follow-up questions to learn more

Unlike open non-leading questions, closed follow-up questions usually elicit a one-word answer.  Closed follow-up questions can also help you create dialogue – sometimes by serving as a reminder for you to take a breath before you reply.  To illustrate, let’s use the previous example of your boss talking about the upcoming training event possibly being cancelled.  He goes on to explain that not everyone who needs to be at your training event is going to be able to make it because some scheduling conflicts have come up.  Needless to say, you’re not happy about this for a variety of reasons.  Despite your gut reaction to throw up your hands in frustration, you instead choose to pause for a moment, and ask a closed, follow-up question like, “Will it be possible to reschedule the event in the fall?”   When you ask a question like that your boss can say “yes” or “no” or “maybe” or even choose to elaborate further.   Regardless, asking this follow-up question allows you the chance to not only demonstrate that you’re a good listener, but also to exhibit some professional equanimity by buying yourself time to regroup before you respond with any concerns.  This makes your boss feel heard, and provides you with an opportunity to show him that you’re cool under pressure. 

4. Empathy statements

The fourth and final skill for creating dialogue is using empathy statements.  Remember, sympathy is expressing your sorrow for someone else’s pain or problem.  Empathy is letting her know that you really get it.  (Or at least that you’re trying to get it.)

Empathy is such a powerful tool for creating dialogue because it lets the other person know that you are making a real effort to understand her — to recognize what it feels like to be in her shoes.  Empathy statements are all about one thing:  labeling an emotion.

Let’s go back to our first example with your colleague who was stuck in traffic. She is visibly stressed and says, “I’ve never seen so much traffic in my life!  I was stuck on the freeway for an hour this morning!”  

A good empathy statement might be, “Being stuck in traffic can be so frustrating!” or “How stressful!”

This gives your colleague a chance to say, “Yes!”  She feels heard.  Then again, maybe she doesn’t feel frustrated or stressed out at all.  Maybe she just feels guilty because she was almost late to the meeting.  In any case, your empathy statement shows that you’re making an honest effort to understand her feelings and give her an opportunity to tell you about it.  It’s yet another way to demonstrate that you’re a good listener. 


Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own schedules and agendas that we don’t listen as well as we should.  We’re thinking about what we want and what we need and what we want to say.  When everyone gets stuck in that mode, authentic communication suffers; meaningful dialogue just doesn’t happen.  Practice these four listening skills, and you will set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd simply by making other people feel heard. 

Laura Montocchio is president and founder of You Make the Call!, Inc., the inventors and sole providers of You Make the Call!® role-play platform.  She can be reached at



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