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Listening as an effective management tool

As a CERN manager, you need to have access to many different channels of information. One – and perhaps the most important – of those channels is direct communication with your team and your peers.

However, if you have not created an environment where people are encouraged to speak up about the issues they face or the risks they see emerging, the information you receive might be incorrect, incomplete or biased, i.e. of little use.

Visitors to the Ombud’s Office often express the concern that they may not be really listened to. Many of them have attempted to pass messages to their supervisors that they feel have not been received. It’s possible that the message was not clear, did not land at the right time for the manager or needed to be reiterated, but any attempt to speak up that is not listened to, might discourage further attempts.

For managers, the art of listening has two key components:

  • Actively listen to others without distraction or judgement, with the sole aim of focusing on understanding;
  • Create a team environment where colleagues feel comfortable sharing their concerns, as well as their successes, without hesitation. 

Listening in this way will give you the information that you really need on opportunities that could be taken or risks that should be mitigated. Here are a few steps to follow to create a true listening environment or improve the existing one:

Protect yourself from blind spots 

Let your supervisees – and your peers – know that you wish to be challenged and that you really want to hear the truth, even when it’s not good news. 

Keep your door open

Hierarchy is necessary to manage complex environments. However, it does not play any part in the respect that you owe to an individual, as respect is due to everyone. Don’t let your team be intimidated by a title or seniority – invite everyone to come to you and speak freely on any matter.  

Give permission to tell you bad news

Make your supervisees aware that knowing about an issue and not sharing it with you is not what you need from them. Be practical and put in place a system whereby bad news, as well as good news, can reach you – whether by text message, email or knocking on your door.

Boost your team’s confidence to solve problems 

If you regularly celebrate achievements, your team will believe in their capacity to overcome obstacles and will not hesitate to share them with you, in time to nip them in the bud.

Don’t shut yourself away in an ivory tower

Invest time and energy in walking around the offices, corridors, workshops, halls and any other place where your team work in order to talk and listen to them. Reiterate your objectives and your strategy to achieve them. Encourage them to talk about their concerns, knowing that they will be truly listened to. It does take time but it’s an essential part of your management duties.  

Finally, and most importantly, listen without judging or ulterior motives

With such a busy agenda, it might be difficult for you to be completely present in meetings and listen to everything being said. But if you want to get the information that people are trying to share with you, you can’t be constantly thinking of what to say next. Fight the impulse to take the lead and affirm your authority – this is listening time!  

When managers systematically listen carefully and foster an environment where colleagues feel free to deliver the good and the not-so-good news, they get the information they need to see emerging risks as well as opportunities, which allows them to do a better job.  

Laure Esteveny

I want to hear from you – feel free to email ombud@cern.ch with any feedback or suggestions for topics you would like me to address.
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