Kristen Hadeed

When was the last time you really listened to someone?

I mean really, truly listened—with no phone in your hand, no earbud in one ear, no inner monologue?

Chances are it’s been a while.

Listening is an incredibly powerful skill—and an even more powerful tool. By truly listening to someone, you’re ensuring their voice is heard, which sounds obvious, but it’s empowering. We’re often so caught up with wanting to chime in and relate everyone’s stories and problems to our own ideas and struggles that conversations become one person waiting for the other to stop talking so they can share what’s on their mind. And sometimes, when a friend comes to us and says, “I’m having such a bad day. You won’t believe what happened!” it’s tempting to immediately start offering advice and trying to help. But that’s not always what people need. Sometimes, they just need someone to listen to them.

It’s just as important to give your friends space to talk as it is the people in your organization.

At my company, our leadership team started doing what we call “check-ins” with our team members. The point of a check-in is first to get to know our team members better and for them to get to know us. But it’s also just to listen. We ask them questions about their lives, their families, their dreams, and then we sit back and let them talk. We hear amazing stories about their family members, their childhoods and their goals that we would’ve never heard otherwise.

We also ask them about their jobs and what they think could be better. Just by listening—not offering excuses, solutions, suggestions or advice in the moment, unless we’re asked for it—we learn about problems we didn’t even realize were problems or great things we’ve been doing that we can do more of. Then, we use what we hear to fix the problems and improve on the things we know we’re already doing well. The result? We make our team members’ jobs—and lives—better and our company stronger.

Listening is also the main component of our hiring interviews. We did away with all the standard questions, like, “What would you say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?” and “What’s your biggest accomplishment and why?” and even the not-so-serious, “What’s your spirit animal?” Those questions didn’t help us get to know our applicants; they led us to answers we wanted to here.

So now, we ask just one question: “What’s your story?” Asking something so open-ended allows people to talk about what they think is most important, which tells us what we need to know about them to make the best hiring decision. We ask follow-up questions, of course, and sometimes we rely on the old standbys if the conversation stalls, but usually, the only other question we need to ask is, “Could you tell me more about that?”

Never underestimate the power of an open-ended question and a willing ear. The next time you want to get to know someone better, figure out if they’re the right fit for your organization or if they have ideas that could really help, listen. Put away your phone, make eye contact with them and just let them talk. You’ll be amazed by what you learn!

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