Listen for Impact, Connect to Improve

by | Oct 6, 2019 | Lean Leadership, Communication & Connection, People Development | 0 comments

Connection drives commitment. If we want to transition from managing compliance to inspiring commitment, we have to build more connection with our team members.

The best way to create more connection is to Listen for Impact.

Listening for Impact

You know that casual listening that we do most of the time? We’re hearing you, but not really hearing you. Our mind chatter is on fire. We’re distracted. And often the other person can kind of – or even mostly – tell that’s the case.

Yeah – that’s not what we’re talking about.

Listening for Impact is a skill that not just helps you truly understand the other person’s perspective. But they feel heard. It builds connection.

Here are the Five Points of Impact Listening:

  • A. Assess Your Readiness
  • B. Be Present
  • C. Clear Your Mind
  • D. Use Derivative Responses
  • E. Employ Silence

Let’s dig in to the skill of each of these five points.


Listen for Impact: Assess Your Readiness

You’re on the floor. You’re walking back to your office for a conference call that starts in five minutes. A team member stops you and asks: “Do you have a second?”

You’re in your office. Your kid’s school calls. Something happened and they need to schedule a parent-teacher conference with you tomorrow. Your mind is racing. A team member steps through the open door of your office and asks: “Hey, can I talk to you about something?”

These types of scenarios happen. And as a leader, we want to be helpful. We want to say yes. But in that moment, are you ready to fully participate and listen for impact?

Probably not. Your mind is somewhere else.

In those situations, consider responding with something like this: “I want to make sure I’m fully present so I can listen and actively participate in the conversation. I have something else on my mind right now. Would it be okay if we talked at 2pm today? (or in 2 hours or first thing in the morning)”

Most of the time they’ll say yes.

And they’ll appreciate that when the conversation happens, you are ready and fully present.


Connect to Improve: Be Present

Someone walks in your office and you engage in conversation.

  • You turn your phone upside down. But it’s still sitting there in plain sight.
  • You glance at your computer screen.
  • You look past them out your office door to see who just walked by.

These are all signals that you aren’t present in the conversation, and they inhibit connection.

Show that you’re present by turning directly to the person. Make eye contact. Nod your head. Make appropriate facial expressions. This will signal that you are actively listening, and the team member will appreciate your focus.


Listen for Impact: Clear Your Mind

Ahhhh. All that mind chatter. The distractions. We’re thinking of how we’re going to respond. We’re thinking of whether we agree with him. We’re thinking of our to-do list. We’re thinking of what we’re going to have for dinner tonight.

I get it. It’s hard to keep the mind chatter at bay.

That’s why you have to practice to develop the skill of clearing your mind.

The best analogy I’ve ever heard for this type of practice is from David VanderMolen. He talks about driving your car through the rain. The rain (mind chatter) is beating down on the windshield making it hard for you to see the road (hear the other person). You use your windshield wiper and it gives you a reprieve. But the rain (mind chatter) keeps coming. So the windshield wiper has to keep swiping. Over and over again.

That’s the skill of clearing our mind when listening.


Connect to Improve: Use Derivative Responses

The most effective skill you can use to help build connection when you’re listening is the effective use of derivative response. A derivative response is when you share your understanding of what the team member is saying in your own words.

We’re not parrots. We don’t just repeat back what they said. That’s annoying.

We share back our understanding in our own words. It might start off like this:

  • “Can I see if I’m understanding you? . . . ”
  • “It sounds like you’re  . . .”
  • “If I hear you right. . . “
  • “So . . . .”

When we use derivative responses, usually the team member responds in one of three ways:

  • Yes! That’s it! Exactly!
  • It’s not exactly that. It’s more like . . .
  • Well, when you put it like that . . .

The great thing is, regardless of which response they give, they will feel heard. They will feel like you’re listening. And that builds connection.


Listen for Impact: Employ Silence

Oh, that dreaded awkward silence. Most of us hate it! But if you want to have a connection-building experience with a team member, you need to embrace it.

Studies show that introverts may need at least 7 seconds to think before responding to a prompt or sharing more information. Yet most of us freak out at silence at about the 3-second mark.

Plus, when we share a derivative response, it often requires some reflection and thought by the team member to consider our understanding that we just shared. And we have to save space for that to happen.

Get comfortable with uncomfortable silence. It can drastically improve the quality of your conversations. And when you give time for a team member to think and contribute her own thoughts before you jump in because you just can’t stand the silence any longer. . .  then they think you really care about their perspective.


Of course, developing expertise in the skill of Listening for Impact takes practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be deliberate and purposeful in practicing this skill. Start small. When you walk the floor and ask people how they’re doing, ask for real. And practice Listening for Impact. You might be surprised at what you learn and how it builds greater connection in your relationships with the team.


P.S. – The five hats of Lean leadership are: Direct, Share, Teach, Coach, and Connect. Learn more about these five roles and how to build more connection by developing your leadership behaviors when wearing each hat. Register for this Free 30-Minute On-Demand Webinar Training Here.

Meet Jamie

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I’m a recovering Command-and-Control Manager who’s now on a mission to make the world of work more human. With a soft spot in my heart for Ops Managers, this Lean blog gives you the straight talk combining Lean, Leadership, and the real challenges of operations management.





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