Management Matters: Do I Have Your Attention?

It’s the end of the day. You are eager to get off the screen and get outside. Or maybe you are back in the office and eager to leave it. That is the time when an employee reaches out and asks if you have a few minutes.  Always wanting to be the responsive manager, you tell them ‘sure.’ At the same time, you watch the clock, thinking about the next thing you have to do.

At the end of the conversation, your employee looks confused.  You are confused too and you scramble to remember the details of the conversation and more importantly what you said.

How many times a week do you have a conversation, but don’t fully engage in it? Someone is talking and you find yourself thinking about the next thing, or the other thing, or something – but not the thing that that is the topic of conversation.  The art of listening is one that everyone, especially managers should always seek to improve upon.

While it is true that as you advance in the organization, the focus becomes one of giving direction and delegating.  However the most effective communication flows two ways. And although there is often a speaker and a listener in a conversation — BOTH people involved should be listening.

Make the Investment

Employees view listening as an investment. It is really no different than people in your personal life. Listening is viewed as an investment in what is important to the person being listened to and for an employee it is viewed as an investment in their career. You may be thinking “I listen to my employees all day long!”  But is this time viewed as an investment, just another exchange, or an exchange that is preventing the manager from getting to something that’s more important for them?

As a manager, do you want to start making an investment that will get you a return?  Here are some ideas to help you get the most out any conversation:

  • Stay in the present and focus: Remove distractions. Do you find yourself rushing around or on your way out but attempting to have an effective conversation? Take a deep breath, make eye contact, and exhale. Concentrate on the speaker. Be aware of your personality. Those who are extroverted are used to freely expressing ideas and doing a lot of the talking and the introverted learn to step back and take a seat to listen. Before you start to speak, take a conscious pause. This will help to steady your thoughts and focus on the present instead of being in the mode of waiting for a pause and anticipating what you are going to say.
  • Manage your activities effectively:  Acknowledge that you only have so much time during the day.  Do not allow yourself to feel rushed into a conversation. Rather than providing a few minutes of your time shoved between activities, ask if you can set aside time to talk.  The other person will appreciate this as it sends a message that you are not only interested in what s/he has to say but you also want to give your undivided attention to the matter without interruption.
  • Be aware of nonverbal cues:  It is estimated that 80% of all communication is nonverbal.  If you suddenly lose eye contact with your employee, ask if anything about the conversation is troubling to him or her. This will help to avoid misunderstandings and make the conversation more valuable and meaningful.  Remember, if your eyes are on an iPad, laptop, or scrolling through your phone for messages, you are missing the majority of the conversation.
  • Rinse and repeat:  Acknowledge what you just heard and repeat it back.  For example, “I hear that you would like more clarification on the new project.” This validates to the speaker that s/he is truly being heard. Try to do this throughout the conversation as a sign of engagement and interest in what the other person is saying.

Listening is often taken for granted.  Those leaders who listen build stronger teams and more engaged employees.  The phrase, “Can you hear me now?” was made famous by a cell phone carrier but imagine if one of your employees is seated across from you and is asking that same question.

Think about what you could do to make the reception clearer.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management consulting practice that specializes in developing people in the areas of leadership and management, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 30 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at