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Managers: Ask, Don't Tell
by Marnie Green

Most managers suffer from the same problem. They think they know the answers and that their employees should listen. However, the best managers know it is the other way around. To gain employee support and buy-in, great managers do more listening than talking. They ask more questions than they make statements and they believe that others have good ideas to offer. Here are five ideas to help you be a better listener and gain the support of your employees.

1. Ask questions to show you care.

Rather than telling your staff that there is a problem and that it needs to be fixed, try asking them what they think the problem is, based on the symptoms. Then, when you listen, they will be more likely to offer up solutions that they can endorse. Effective question asking is the key to open communication.

2.Ask questions that elicit buy-in.

The next time someone comes to you for advice, resist the temptation to give them the answer. This is tough for many of us who have “been there, done that.” However, if you really want them to believe in the solution, ask them what they think the best solution would be. Through effective questioning, great managers lead people to their own solutions.

3. Ask the two questions daily.

If you only ask these two questions each day, you’ll be miles ahead. Ask: “How do you feel?” and “What do you need?” Don’t worry. These don’t have to be touchy-feely questions. Ask them in relation to the job. “How do you feel about the new equipment?” “What do you need to produce an error free report?” When you ask these two questions, the world will open up to you.

4. Zip it!

One of the hardest things for motivated, high achievers to do is to not give their own opinion. However, this is one skill that can help you build relationships faster than any other. After you ask these great questions of your staff, close your mouth, maintain eye contact, and wait for a response. Resist the tendency to give your own answer. A little bit of silence won’t kill you.

5. Listen and paraphrase.

Once you do get a response from the other person, rather than giving your own point of view, try restating what they’ve said. They are guaranteed to know you are listening when you paraphrase their words. Try using phrases like, “I think I’m hearing you say. . .” or “Do you mean. . .?” or “Are you saying. . .?” Then, go back to step 4 and zip it!

Being a great manager means being a great listener. You may have great ideas and skills yourself, but as a manager, your job is to cultivate the great ideas and skills with others.

Marnie Green may be contacted at
Marnie E. Green is Principal Consultant of the Arizona-based Management Education Group, Inc. She is the author of Painless Performance Evaluations: A Practical Approach to Managing Day to Day Employee Performance (Pearson/Prentice Hall). Green is a speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations develop leaders today for the workforce of tomorrow. Contact Green at


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