Are You All Ears?

If you want to be a great leader—and trainer—just listen.

Do you want to be a great trainer? Would you like to be a world-class leader? Do you want the respect and recognition of your peers, your family, friends, boss, and subordinates?

You’ll be well on your way if you do two things—both within the power of anyone reading this article:

1. Learn to ask the right questions in the right way.
2. Learn to listen.

Does that sound too good to be true? Well, it is good—and it is true. Write down the names of the three people you most respect and admire. Are they good listeners?

In all likelihood, they are. We like and respect good listeners. We will do more for good listeners. We feel an obligation to support the people we respect and trust. Listening helps do that for you.

Make no mistake about it: Listening is more than just keeping your mouth shut.


Many people appear to listen—but they’re only waiting for their turn to talk. The result is two one-way conversations going on at the same time—verbal ping-pong, with participants changing the subject when the ball is in their court.

Questions can help us to be better listeners. Asking questions shows we want to keep the ball in the other person’s court. The two types of questions we can use to do this are information questions and opinion questions.

An information question has a right-or-wrong component. This question, for example, has a right answer: What is the company policy on taking paid vacation?

You often can use questions in training for the purpose of helping people learn, not merely for testing. Often, I will ask a question and then say, “Talk about this in your group for one minute and come up with your best answer.” In those 60 seconds, each group revisits the content and probably comes up with the right answer. Moreover, everyone’s engaged. And the discussion anchors key content in their memories.

An opinion question, on the other hand, asks for just that—an opinion. The answer isn’t right or wrong. If I’m leading a group, I ask an opinion question and then say, “You have two minutes to discuss this—and then be prepared to share your opinions.”

Instead of criticizing opinions that emerge, we should reward people for speaking up.


One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to ask a question and then, as people respond, cut them off and finish their responses for them. After you ask a question, give the other person time to respond. Listening is a gift. Give it often.

What is crucial about being a good listener is attitude. No matter how many programs you’ve taken or books you’ve read, to be a good listener, you must want to be a good listener.

However, we tend to divide people into groups. The worthy we listen to. The unworthy we do not. Do we listen to the CEO more closely than to the janitor? Probably. What if each said he or she needed five minutes and we were busy? To whom would we listen? Probably the CEO. But who would you miss more if the person were gone for six months without a replacement? Everyone is important.

The CEO of a hospital once sat in the cafeteria with one of the hospital janitors. They discussed how long the janitor had been at the hospital and they bantered about sports. When the CEO asked about family, the janitor smiled and pulled out photos of seven children. He described how each had excelled, won scholarships to Harvard and Stanford, and that each of the seven was now a doctor, lawyer, or had a doctorate and was teaching.

The CEO left that encounter humbled.

Who was the real leader? Who was the real manager? Who focused on the important rather than the unimportant?

Who will you listen to today? What questions will you ask? Give the gift of love by giving the gift of listening. As a friend of mine, Bob Conklin, once said: “Listening is one way of having people say, ‘I feel better about me when I’m with you.’”

Until next time, continue to add value and make a difference!

Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAE-Speakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” and his newest book, “The Master Trainer’s Handbook.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.