At a recent conference, I met Paul, the founder of a global networking group that attracts highly-successful CEOs. When he asked if we could meet to talk about my company, I eagerly agreed. 

Over lunch in the hotel restaurant, Paul asked, “So, what’s your business?”

I began to answer his question, but he quickly cut me off and asked, “Have I shown you the chart yet?” He spent the next five minutes drawing out two graphs that demonstrated how to get funding for my company. I was skeptical. After all, he didn’t know anything about my business. But his reputation was impressive, so I kept listening.

“Do you know ______?” he asked, naming a very successful author.

 “Yep,” I said. “She’s great!”

 “Go check out her testimonial on my website,” he said. “Now, we need to get you on the radio. You need dozens of books, maybe even a TV show. You’re young and pretty now, so now’s the time.”

My gut said, Run. And so I did, regardless of his reputation. I wanted nothing to do with an organization whose leader is too focused on furthering his own interests to listen and learn about a potential client.

According to the International Listening Association, most of us are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful about 75 percent of the time we should be listening. And that’s a problem, because more than 35 studies indicate that listening is a top skill needed for success in business. 


Listening is not only important for sales and recruitment; it’s also an essential leadership skill. Just as Paul would have kept my attention by listening, you can keep your employees interested and engaged by giving them a chance to be heard. Here’s how:


  1. Zip it. Ask the question you want answered, and then focus on what they have to say. It can be hard not to interrupt, but doing so keeps you from getting the information you need … and can make your employees feel disrespected and frustrated. If you feel compelled to butt in, try this trick one of my mentors taught me: Lean in, put your hand on your chin, and use your index finger to cover your lips.
  2. Repeat it. After they finish speaking, take the opportunity to clarify, eliminate the potential for misunderstandings, and ensure that they feel heard by repeating your interpretation of what was said. Try this: “What I’m hearing you say is______. Did I get it? Is there more?”
  3. Validate it. Once you feel confident that you get the point, finish with, “What makes sense about what you’re saying is___.”


Just watch what happens to the way others listen to you when you begin listening to them. 


Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes