In my last post I discussed what I have learned about art of difficult conversations during my career: how to have a proactive discussion with someone that does not leave them feeling that they have been backed into a corner and need to come out fighting.

Part of the skill in handling those conversations and indeed any discussion with a work colleague is learning how to truly listen. I think most of us are, to a greater or lesser degree, guilty of listening to respond rather than to understand.

If we are listening to respond, we are thinking about how someone’s words impact us. Do those words make us feel happy, or sad, irritated or pleased?

We frame our responses based on our own feelings. While the other person is talking, we are often mentally preparing an example of something similar that has happened to us. This gives us an opportunity to talk about the thing we are most interested in, ourselves.

However, if we are listening to understand, we are thinking about the other person. Why are they telling us certain information and how are they feeling? Why is it important to them and do they need help? What can we do to help them?

All of this makes us better human beings. And in a work situation, it also makes us better colleagues and managers.

One of the key attributes of being a good manager is learning how to truly listen rather than using a conversation, as a vehicle to impose our will on someone else.

During THP training sessions, we repeatedly emphasise that the purpose of any meeting is to start from the assumption that everyone has something to contribute and that no one individual knows the whole truth of a situation.

Consequently a manager’s role is not to explain the truth to the other person, because they do not have it. Their role is to solicit feedback and build a complete picture.

This starts from the top down. My father is the most senior person at THP, but he knows that he needs to listen to everyone else to frame a good solution.

So THP meetings are very different to most other companies. We start off by asking the most junior team members to put forward their points of view first.

This has two benefits. Firstly they feel valued. Secondly, they will also not be able to simply agree with their managers, because they will have spoken first.

It is important to collect information from all along the corporate food chain. But the most valuable is often from the people on the frontline because they are ones dealing with the day-to-day issues that can make or break a company’s reputation.

Type A personality types often struggle with the issue of listening to others. They are so focused on “climbing the greasy pole” and so competitive that they fail to grasp the need to consider others.

They typically make very poor managers. We’ve found that one way to train this personality type is by showing them that they are being judged on their ability to listen to others and support the wider team.

One they realize that supporting others supports them, there is a fundamental mind-shift that benefits everyone.