As the world continues to cope and learn from COVID-19, we are quickly coming to grips with a new normal for how we connect – and are connected – with others.

The backbone of an effective organizational communication system is a well-executed, feedback-rich, and outcomes-driven communication strategy. And people managers are the essential nervous system that, at its best, most effectively activates and inspires (or douses, when needed) behaviors and actions.

In this ultra-uncertain time, one of the most important steps companies can take is to assure your people managers have as much clarity as possible on your expectations, on how they lead themselves and how they lead others. More specifically, leaders and managers need to clearly know and believe the people they lead are…

  • Counting on them to provide information frequently and confidently, and to interpret and apply this information in a way that makes sense
  • Expecting them to facilitate and demonstrate a culture of trust
  • Wanting them to assure there will be a healthy work culture, no matter if work is done in-person and/or virtually
  • Craving for them to listen with empathy, and to apply what they are hearing into action

This last expectation – focused on active listening – is quite likely the least developed communication skill for many people managers. Think about it. To what degree have leaders and managers wholly embraced an active listening capability and discipline? At another level, how are leaders thoughtfully considering what they’ve seen and heard, validating these perspectives and then acting on this input in a meaningful way?

Here’s how leaders and managers can apply a practical, data-focused and systematic way, to listen for, identify and validate understanding, sentiment/emotion (e.g. anxiety) and overall readiness level of their people:

  • Conduct frequent check-ins with your team and one-on-ones with your employees
  • Identify and summarize the emotion you are hearing and seeing (remember, recognizing non-verbal cues is part of listening)
  • Acknowledge the emotion with a statement like, “I really appreciate you sharing. It seems like you are .”
  • Validate what you are hearing, with a follow-up statement such as “Am I hearing you correctly?” If yes, express appreciation. If no, ask “Ok. What am I not hearing correctly?” The more you open up the conversation for this accuracy ‘check in’, the more you are building trust, ownership and connection with others.

Over time, consistently applying this active listening skill will become a strong leadership habit and grow a leader’s capability to successfully lead through disruption. As you string together what you hear from multiple listening opportunities, you can start to see patterns and themes. These are prime cues on what you can do to reinforce your people, as well as to address and mitigate resistance.


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