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201. Better Listening

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Ep. 201 – Can you recall that last conversation you had with someone when you noticed they weren’t fully present with you and giving you their fullest attention? Maybe they checked their phones every so often, maybe they were watching people walking by, or they were more interested telling you about their own experiences rather than trying to really hear and understand what you were trying to communicate.

How did you feel in that conversation? Chances are high that it seemed high-level, not very meaningful, or even a waste of time.

Listening well is a skill most of us have to learn as an adult and while it sounds easy enough, for many of us it is actually hard to do and filled with unconscious pitfalls.

Being a better listener can lead to significant positive outcomes for you, your team, and your organization. Not only does it demonstrate empathy and help to build trust but it also plays an important role in understanding various perspectives which can lead to making better, more informed decisions.

In this episode, Ramona will fill you in on the most common barriers to active listening, some of which you’ve probably not thought of before. She will also provide practical advice that will help you navigate challenging situations by fully engaging with the people involved and getting to the root cause of the issues at hand.

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Episode 201 Transcript:

0:00:00 Ramona Shaw: This is episode 201 on better listening and what it actually means.

0:00:06 Ramona Shaw: Here’s the question. How do you successfully transition into your first official leadership role, build the confidence and competence to lead your team successfully and establish yourself as a respected and trusted leader across the organization? That’s the question, and this show provides the answers. Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. I’m your host, Ramona Shaw, and I’m on a mission to create workplaces where.

0:00:28 Ramona Shaw: Work is not seen as a source.

0:00:30 Ramona Shaw: Of stress and dread, but as a source of contribution, connection, and fulfillment. And this transition starts with developing a new generation of leaders who know how to lead so everyone wins and grows. In the show, you’ll learn how to think, communicate, and act as the confident and competent leader you know you can be.

0:00:50 Ramona Shaw: Welcome to this episode of The Manager Track podcast. Let me start off and ask you this. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, maybe a new team member, maybe a new coworker, or you’ve had an interview? Either you were interviewing someone or you were being interviewed, or just in a meeting where you’re trying to resolve something, but you kind of feel like you’re not really on the same page, not really on the same wavelength. Or you just feel like you’re talking past each other and not really coming to a useful or meaningful conclusion.

0:01:24 Ramona Shaw: Chances are high in such situations that one or both of you weren’t actively listening. Now, active listening is a critical skill for leaders, but many of us struggle with it just because of the way that we operate as humans, but also because many of the barriers of active listening are not recognized by us as barriers. In fact, I feel like a lot of it is almost normalized in the context of work and even in personal relationships.

0:01:54 Ramona Shaw: May this be talking to someone else while also scrolling on the phone or reading something else that all of a sudden becomes, like, accepted? And so it may not seem like a big deal in the workplace either, when you’re typing something while also being in sort of a sideways conversation. But especially as a leader, the cost is really high of doing this because of the impact it has when we’re not fully present and we actually don’t feel either both of us, or one of us doesn’t really feel like reconnecting and solving it, or that we have the other person’s full attention.

0:02:29 Ramona Shaw: So I want to take some time today to give you a breakdown on why active listening matters. Some of the common barriers, those that often go unnoticed, noticed or that we’re unaware of so that you can become better at this skill. This is a really important skill. And all of the great leaders that either I’ve experienced that people describe to me that we observe in the media, the one thing that not all, but most of them have in common is they have really strong presence and they make people feel special.

0:03:02 Ramona Shaw: And in moments of conversations like they truly matter. And this is the most important conversation, the most important meeting of their day, and they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And that’s not easy to do because our attention is drawn and pulled into many different directions. And while we’re taking meetings from our computer where we’re also getting a bunch of notifications or dings or stuff pops up, or it’s just so easy to quickly look at a different screen or check on an email that we needed to send or that just came in, this becomes more and more important.

0:03:37 Ramona Shaw: And those who do active listening well, or just they are aware of active listening, will have an advantage. Now, before I go any further, let me quickly give you a definition of active listening. Active listening is focused attention and being able to thoughtfully respond to what someone else is saying without inserting our own assumptions or judgments. When we do this, we’re able to build trust, create a safe space for our team members.

0:04:08 Ramona Shaw: We’re better able to understand different perspectives. It allows you to gather fuller information before making decisions, and it most importantly makes other people feel valued and heard. So on one hand, it’s actually a result oriented skill because you’re getting more information, you’re getting to better solutions, but it’s also a people skill because of the trust that you build and the ability to make people feel like you care and you’re present with them.

0:04:39 Ramona Shaw: Now, all that said, I know that it’s hard and we’re going to get through some of these barriers here in a moment because they are real and despite being aware of this, I find myself doing them or being really tempted to divert my attention. But whenever I am successful with being fully present, and of course, as a coach in coaching conversations, this is a key skill because otherwise I couldn’t effectively coach if I wasn’t present.

0:05:08 Ramona Shaw: So I get a lot of training in coaching conversations, but yet I might have other meetings or in my personal life conversations where it’s so easy to wander off or to get distracted. And I immediately recognize how either I’m not getting the full picture, I’m not really trying to understand them, or I’m not connecting on a deeper or more intimate level with the person across from me. And it’s a little bit like a doctor who sees a patient for the first time and is trying to diagnose what’s going on with them, right? But they’re not asking any questions.

0:05:44 Ramona Shaw: They’re not really running any tests. The doctor just looks at the patient for a minute, then writes a prescription without really spending the time to understand the symptoms, the medical history, or reading between the lines of what else may be causing this symptom that the patient itself is not aware of. So we may go to the doctor because our stomach hurts. And who knows? Maybe it is that we’re having an intolerance to some kind of food or it’s stress that starts to manifest itself in stomach aches.

0:06:20 Ramona Shaw: But if the doctor isn’t attuned to that and isn’t asking good questions to have a better understanding of the patient’s lifestyle, their nutrition, their sports or activities, the medical history overall, and other things that they pick up when they’re fully present, there’s a high chance that the doctor will not come to the right diagnosis within a short time frame. So just like a doctor really needs to observe the patient, pick up on the things between the lines, ask good questions to come up with, hopefully the right diagnosis.

0:06:54 Ramona Shaw: As leaders in conversations with team members or stakeholders, we need to take a very similar approach. So when someone presents an issue or a problem to you, imagine being that doctor who can’t just take that first word as the only source to then make a diagnosis. You really have to dig deeper into it to understand what is going on and observe the whole conversations a little bit from a distance to pick up on things that you might not see if you are only half present.

0:07:25 Ramona Shaw: So let’s talk about some of these barriers that I mentioned earlier on. There are a bunch, but I’m going to go through them one by one. And what I hope is that you have something to write on. It could be your phone, or it could be a piece of paper to pick up what may be the things that are hard for you to do. And it may be only one or two things from this list, but making positive changes in those areas will inevitably increase your active listening skills, and that’s what we’re here to do, just growing incrementally in those critical skills.

0:08:00 Ramona Shaw: Okay, so the first one I want to talk about is giving advice. So jumping in too quickly with your solutions. And this is really what we talked about with the doctor’s example here, where a doctor would just quickly jump in with a solution without really understanding the problem. So advising. Anytime you advise, without asking at least one question, you’re leaving insights on the table, and your advice will likely not be nearly as good as that as it could be if you just pause for a second and ask the question.

0:08:33 Ramona Shaw: That’s one. Number two is coming into conversations or having conversations with a lot of assumptions in mind that are lacking supportive evidence. This may be this other person was disrespecting me. This other person disagrees with this approach. They’re all just about cost cutting. They don’t really care about the quality of the product or the well being of the company or the team. The other person just generally doesn’t respect me.

0:09:04 Ramona Shaw: Or I make an assumption that as a company, we really need to cut costs. And so we’re looking at cost cutting on all ends when maybe that’s not fully true, maybe you made an assumption that that’s accurate. But if you were to ask the C suite or your CEO or your boss, they may say, yes, cost cutting is important, but not to the detriment of the quality of our product. So check your assumptions with those things.

0:09:30 Ramona Shaw: Knowing what assumptions that you have going into a conversation is really important. And when you catch yourself in a conversation where you present ideas or you reject other people’s ideas or opinions because of assumptions you have that you have no facts that support them, watch out. So then get really curious of like, hold on, where’s the evidence to that? What is truly a statement that was made or a data point that we would all agree on, and this is what evidence is, right? We would see it and we would all agree that this means x or means y. It’s not open for interpretation. That’s what facts are.

0:10:11 Ramona Shaw: The next one is to avoid. Avoid conflict or avoid tension. So when you’re in a conversation and you notice, oh, I’m shutting down because I see tension coming up and I’m diverting the conversation elsewhere, or I’m just shutting it down and wanting to close down the conversation or end the meeting. That would be avoidance, not being fully present. When you’re fully present in a conversation and you notice tension coming up, lean into it, because that means there’s something that needs to be addressed.

0:10:44 Ramona Shaw: There’s something that another person is trying to tell you where there’s friction or conflict. And when we pick up on that, we may say, hey, I have a hunch that. Or it seems to me that there’s something underlying this whole issue that we should talk about. Or maybe there’s an elephant in the room that we’re not really addressing what is going on that makes this difficult, or what are you really thinking about this project, or I’m sensing some tension or some dissonance from you?

0:11:13 Ramona Shaw: Is that true? Really asking those questions will show that you pay attention and you pick up on the emotional cues that another person may send to you or something that they say in between the lines. Another derailleur to active listening is derailing so derailing a conversation, especially when there’s a clear agenda, when there’s a group of people and we just identified what’s the goal of this conversation? Or what are we trying to go into within that hour or 30 minutes meeting and you’re not able to read the room to recognize that what I want to share here may be important, but this is not the right setting, not the right forum, not the right time to bring it up because it would be derailing the conversation.

0:12:01 Ramona Shaw: And this is really about acknowledging what’s the context of the meeting, what are people here to do? And then if I want to bring something up that’s not part of what we’ve agreed on or not everyone’s understanding of what we’re here to talk about, get buy in first. Say, like, hey, I have another thing that I wanted to share. Can we talk about this now? Or you can say, like, hey, this brings up another topic which I think is worthwhile discussing.

0:12:25 Ramona Shaw: Now, in this conversation, I recognize you weren’t planning for that conversation. Would you like, or should we dive into it, or should we table it and schedule a separate meeting to talk about XYZ? This is important because then you understand what other people are here to do, and you’re being fully present, recognizing that in the moment. But when we’re sort of half present or not acknowledging the context of the format of the meeting, we may end up talking about something that’s top of mind for us, but it’s not why we’re here.

0:12:57 Ramona Shaw: And that demonstrates a lack of active listening. Okay. And another barrier that I want to share is your own experience. And this is tricky because the more experience you have on a particular topic, the more naturally the more assured you are of your opinions, which is a good thing, but can also be overdone, especially when it prevents you from being curious and asking questions in a room to make sure that you are truly understanding the situation and not jumping to conclusions just because you’ve experienced something before.

0:13:34 Ramona Shaw: And so you think, oh, it happened to me too, and here’s what I learned. So this is the same situation, and here’s what you need to do that is really dangerous, because anytime someone tells you a scenario, you’re only getting a fraction of what’s really going on. Ideally, the summary is really good, but the summary is still a summary. And so whenever you find yourself talking about your own experience and then bringing that into the conversation and using that as irrationale, or the argument for why doing x, y or z, or assuming that the other person feels the same way that you felt when you experienced the same situation, watch out. Alarm bells should go off because your experience is likely different from theirs and the situation is likely different than yours was.

0:14:25 Ramona Shaw: And yes, use your experience and share that when appropriate, but ask questions first. Check in first on how they’re feeling, how they’re assessing it, what they think, and get a better understanding of the situation before you have this confirmation bias of already jumping in and thinking you’re right because you’ve experienced this before. By the way, another one of this is whenever someone shares an experience that they’ve had or a situation that’s going on with them.

0:14:52 Ramona Shaw: For example, if you say, oh my gosh, I can’t believe my employee had the audacity to just not show up to work. And I would hear you say that as a coworker, as a peer, and I’d be, oh my gosh, this happened to me too. Two weeks ago, someone did the exact same thing, they just didn’t show up. And then an hour later they tell me that they’re not feeling well. But I didn’t know where they were for that first hour and I got nervous and then I had to scramble and figure out who’s going to do their work today. It’s just unbelievable.

0:15:22 Ramona Shaw: Now someone was trying to share a problem or a challenge with me. In that case that I example. And I totally took that on and made it all about me again, the other person, likely in that moment, felt like, okay, great, you had the same experience. But that didn’t really help me in any way in such situations, especially as a leader, instead of trying to just validate them and bring your own story into it, really stick with them. Like, okay, that must be hard. I can relate.

0:15:55 Ramona Shaw: What did you do and did you have a conversation with them afterwards? Don’t take it away from them. Stay present with them. The danger of having experience and how it can derail your active listening and conversations. Another common one, and I’m going to talk about three more. Another common one is judging so very quickly, forming an opinion and then sticking with that opinion and not really listening anymore what the other person or other people are saying, and instead just thinking about how you can defend your own opinion versus how can you understand their opinions first? So aim to understand before you aim to be understood.

0:16:36 Ramona Shaw: But the moment you start to judge, our blinders come into play and we’re just not as open minded anymore. So try to stay curious for as long as possible. When we’re curious, we can’t be judgmental at the same time. Now, one other one is to be mentally rehearsing what you’re trying to say next. So when you’re in a conversation, instead of really listening to them and not think about what your counterargument is or what you think about all that, but really being present in the moment until they’re done talking, we will know immediately when someone is listening to us, but they’re not really listening anymore.

0:17:17 Ramona Shaw: Once I said the first sentence, they’ve already made up their mind, and now they’re just nodding until they can have a counterargument or they can chime in and share their opinions again. People who do active listening really well, they stay fully present to everything the other person says, and then they will maybe take a moment, ask a question, think about their own opinions, and take that process slowly. They’re not mentally rehearsing while the other person’s still talking.

0:17:47 Ramona Shaw: The final one that I want to stress here is stress. When you’re stressed or you feel that sense of urgency because you have deadlines coming up or you’re getting pinged on multiple fronts, and yet you’re supposed to be present in a meeting that can feel stressful and other people will pick up on it. We do see when we’re on camera that your eyes are reading emails, their eyes are moving line by line, or that you’re glancing at another screen. Everyone can see it.

0:18:16 Ramona Shaw: Now, you may think, well, it’s not a big deal, everyone does it, sure. But are you aware of the cause? Are you aware of the impression that you leave behind, of how people interpret your interactions in the meetings? When we see people in meetings who are fully engaged, and we can tell they turn off their notifications, they’re leaning back, they’re not typing, they’re not on their phones, they’re not on slack or whatever else they might be doing, but they’re fully present in the conversation, it really changes the dynamic and allows us to have a way deeper dialogue and be innovative. Because you have the mental capacity now to think about what the other person is saying, to come, to bring up better ideas, to be more engaged, and just to demonstrate that this matters, this conversation matters, and you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here right now.

0:19:07 Ramona Shaw: This applies to your team, to your peers, to stakeholders, all of that. If you actually feel like you don’t have time for a meeting because you have other urgent things to do, you’re probably better off telling the people that you’re not able to join, asking someone to record it, or using AI tools to get the notes or the recaps of the meeting afterwards versus being in the meeting but not being present.

0:19:32 Ramona Shaw: So these are just some of the barriers that I wanted to share with you on active listening. I’m going to quickly name them again. The first one we talked about was advising. The second one was having assumptions. The third one was derailing conversations. The fourth one was letting your experience get in the way of actively listening. The fifth one was touching. The 6th one was rehearsing internally, and then the 7th was stress, the common distractors.

0:20:02 Ramona Shaw: Now we can all get better at active listening, which is what I was saying. I hope you picked up one or two from the seven that I just listed that you want to get better at. It may be avoiding distractions, giving your full attention to the meeting, really blocking, really being disciplined with this approach. It may be to ask more open ended questions, to draw the other person out, to stay curious a lot longer, to make sure that you appropriately understand what they’re saying. Someone may explain the situation and you’re paraphrasing back what you hear.

0:20:38 Ramona Shaw: So they know, oh yes, they were listening and they heard it and they got it right. Or they may add and say, like, actually true. But then there’s also this other thing that I mentioned. So, paraphrasing, watching your body language and your tone and how you engage in conversations, are you checked out, leaning back, looking around off screen, or in meetings, are you sort of looking out the window, or who’s walking outside the glass door? Or are you fully present, maintaining eye contact, or just being engaged with your body language, being open and present and leaning forward.

0:21:13 Ramona Shaw: Do you interrupt people or cut them off? Notice this. When it happens, you can ask the people and say, hey, can you observe me in meetings and let me know if I’m cutting people off or if I’m talking too much or if I’m derailing conversations? I’d love some feedback, because sometimes it’s hard for us to recognize what we’re doing while we’re doing it. And other people, especially if you trust them, they can be this objective observer and then tell you, yeah, there were a few times where I thought you interrupted another person or where you jumped to conclusions too fast, or you kind of went off topic a little bit.

0:21:45 Ramona Shaw: And that kind of feedback is really useful for us to have to then become more aware. The last one is to be emotionally aware of your own reactions and what may prompt you to be defensive or to be judgmental and to close your mind and to be stuck in this judgment versus staying open minded and present and curious with the other person. So if you notice, I get upset, frustrated, bored, annoyed. And then what happens in those situations is you shut down, disengage, be mindful of the impact that that has.

0:22:24 Ramona Shaw: Your job in those situations is to become better at managing your emotions while you’re in the conversation so that you can truly show up as a leader who can guide and be present and be effective, no matter what other people say or how they show up. Now, let me be clear with something. Even though I say stay curious, withhold your judgment, it doesn’t mean that you don’t judge and assess and that you don’t disagree with other people’s opinions. That’s not the point. Of course we’ll disagree. And we hopefully disagree to things, because that’s the beauty of being team or having multiple people talk about a topic that we see diverse aspects and perspectives. We should be disagreeing on things, but not without giving our effort to understand other people’s perspectives, to try to understand where they’re coming from, and then to find common grounds, and again, to demonstrate other people that we actually care about their perspectives, their opinions, and this conversation.

0:23:19 Ramona Shaw: Now, before we wrap up, I want to share a real life example of where people had preformed opinions and were very judgmental about what was going on in the environment and did not stay open minded and curious to understand the dynamics and the trends in the market. We’ve all heard of blockbusters, right? And this example is about blockbuster. In the early 2000s, Blockbuster dominated the movie rental industry.

0:23:47 Ramona Shaw: But leaders at Blockbuster failed to pay attention as Netflix emerged with the mail based dvd rental services. Those of you who remember that Blockbuster executives totally dismissed Netflix’s model. They continued to believe that their in store experience was far superior. They were betting down on their own experience, right? Their past knowledge, their history at blockbusters. And because of that, they didn’t change the business model at all. They were not open minded. They weren’t trying to understand what’s going on.

0:24:19 Ramona Shaw: That closed mindset is what happened. And of course, we now know they started to lose customers to Netflix pretty fast. And by 2010, Blockbuster had to file for bankruptcy, while Netflix went on to become a very successful company of course, this is a large scale example, but very similar things happen inside of organizations on a small scale day in and day out because people aren’t actively listening and engaging in the dialogue, but coming into it with either half presence, with preformed assumptions, with quick judgments, with lack of interest in understanding other people’s perspectives or things that might counter their own opinions or may be different to what they’ve experienced in the past.

0:25:02 Ramona Shaw: So this is a really critical skill to develop. I hope that this episode inspired you to make that 10% growth in what area you think you could lean into a little bit more. And while it looks different for each of us, I strongly believe we all have opportunities to become more present and get better at active listening, both in our professional lives and in our personal lives. And with that, I’ll wrap up this episode. I’ll see you next week with another episode of The Manager Track podcast. Bye for now.

0:25:31: If you enjoyed this episode, then check out two other awesome resources to help you become a leader people love to work with. This includes my best selling book, the confident and competent new manager, which you can find on Amazon or@ramonashaw.com slash book, and a free training on how to successfully lead as a new manager. You can check it out@ramonashaw.com masterclass these resources and a couple more you’ll find in the show notes down below.


  1. What are some challenges you face in actively listening during conversations?
  2. How often do you find yourself offering solutions or advice too quickly before fully understanding the situation?
  3. What are some nonverbal cues you can use to demonstrate active listening?
  4. What strategies can you use to avoid interrupting or jumping to conclusions during conversations?
  5. Think about a recent conversation you had with an employee. In what ways did you actively listen to them?
  6. How comfortable are you asking clarifying questions to ensure you understand an employee’s concerns or perspectives?


  • Learn how to turn your 1-on-1 meetings from time wasters, awkward moments, status updates, or non-existent into your most important and valuable meeting with your directs all week. Access the course and resources here: ramonashaw.com/11
  • Have a question or topic you’d like Ramona to address on a future episode? Fill out this form to submit it for her review: https://ramonashaw.com/ama



Grab your copy of Ramona’s best-selling book ‘The Confident & Competent New Manager: How to Rapidly Rise to Success in Your First Leadership Role’: amzn.to/3TuOdcP

If this episode inspired you in some way, take a screenshot of you listening on your device and post it to your Instagram Stories, and tag me @ramona.shaw.leadership or DM me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/ramona-shaw

Are you in your first manager role and don’t want to mess it up? Watch our FREE Masterclass and discover the 4 shifts to become a leader people love to work for: ramonashaw.com/masterclass

Don’t forget to invest time each week to increase your self-awareness, celebrate your wins, and learn from your mistakes. Your career grows only to the extent that you grow. Grab your Career Journal with leadership exercises and weekly reflections here: ramonashaw.com/shop

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