Listening – The secret weapon to keep your staff

Losing an experienced team member is a catastrophe. But how do you keep them when you can’t just throw money at the problem? Building a culture where your team feels they belong and that they have a say in their work is critical. And the most effective way you can do this is to make them know you are listening to them.

Listening isn’t passive
We tend to think of listening as simply hearing the words people say, but it is more than that. Listening is taking in the words, understanding what was behind them, and showing the speaker you have “got” what they meant. As doctors we are not very good at this with our team because are trained to fix things and tend to jump in with solutions. Happily there are ways we can train ourselves to listen better.

Mirror what they say so they know you are listening
Repeating the last or most important 3-5 words people say in a questioning tone of voice gently encourages people to elaborate. It is much less threatening than asking direct questions and doesn’t break their flow. It will sound artificial to you but, trust me, it will feel natural to them.

Label what they say so they know you are taking it in
Use “It seems like …” or “It sounds like …” to make an observation about what they have said. It allows them to confirm or correct and know that you understand them. This is particularly effective when you label feelings, eg. “It sounds like that made you feel ignored”, because they can be hard to articulate.

Paraphrase what they say so they know you’ve got it
When you’ve heard the gist of what they are saying, repeat a summary back to them in your own words. Again this allows them to confirm or correct and let’s them know you have really heard what they are saying. The goal is getting them to be happy it is all out in the open and say “That’s right”.

Don’t be afraid of hearing what you don’t want to hear
Sometimes we fear that listening to things is like opening Pandora’s Box and there is no going back. But listening doesn’t mean you have to agree and if you don’t know about problems you can’t deal with them. In actual fact, exposing issues to the light robs them of much of their power and allows collaboration to sort them out.

Use What and How questions to focus on finding a solution
Your team are not stupid. They know that “I need 10% more money to make ends meet at home” has no easy answers. But instead of saying “No” ask “How are we going to do that?” in a tone of genuine enquiry. You may uncover team members who want less hours or extra work in vaccine clinics or new roles with new funding. The point is that you are now both on the same side working to fix the problem.

When people feel heard, they feel safe. While money is important, feeling looked after and listened to is crucial to your team feeling happy at work. And that is what will help you keep your staff when all around are losing theirs.

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