Two Ears and One Mouth: Listen First

This post reverts to the series I started in June, writing this summer about Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust. For those who have taken training based on the book (such as Inspiring Trust, or Leading at the Speed of Trust), you know the materials include what looks like a deck of cards. People love these Trust Action Cards!

Each card details one of the 13 Behaviors Covey outlines in his book as the keys to building and maintaining trust. The front provides a simple, hand-held reminder of what the right behaviors look like, as well as what the Opposite behaviors look like. The back gives examples of What to Say to demonstrate the behavior, as well as illustrates Counterfeit manifestations of the behavior (when someone demonstrates the opposite).

This time the focus is on Listen First. The FRONT of the card says:

  • Definition: Listen before you speak. Understand. Diagnose. Listen with your ears . . . and your eyes and heart. Find out what the most important behaviors are to the people you’re working with. Don’t assume you know what matters most to others. Don’t presume you have all the answers – or all the questions.
  • Opposite: To speak first and listen last; to not listen at all.

The BACK of the card says: What to Say (examples):

  • What I hear you saying is . . .
  • Let me make sure I understand what you’re trying to say . . .
  • Let’s clarify what the group is saying . . .
  • Is there anything you’d add to what you’ve said?
  • You feel <fill in the blank> about <topic at hand>
  • My intent is to first understand your point of view, then explain my own.

Counterfeit: Listening without understanding. “Listening” only to formulate your reply. Focusing only on your own agenda. Pretending to listen.

We have probably all been in situations where we felt like someone has not been truly listening to us. We are all customers and consumers of goods and services. For me recently, it happened on the phone while speaking with a customer service representative for an airline.

She apparently had a script or a formula for the situation she thought I presented. I tried explaining my circumstances to her three times. Every time she had the same answer because she was not willing to deviate from the predetermined way to handle the situation. Therefore, she was not truly, really listening to me because I had a slightly different situation. We reached an impasse. She could not help me because she did not listen to me.

How can YOU relate? When was the last time you felt like the person you were speaking with had his/her answer ready to share before you even stopped talking? Are you perhaps (gulp) even guilty of behaving that way? Maybe even with your kids . . . or a high-maintenance co-worker or customer??

This behavior is not called:

  • Listen when it’s convenient
  • Listen when you don’t have any other distractions
  • Listen when you’re caught up on your emails
  • Listen when you are not tired

You get the point. It’s called Listen First for a reason. You have to actively work at making it a priority. I challenge you to think about how you can apply Covey’s recommendations both at home and at work. Where and how can you do MORE listening and BETTER listening to increase your personal effectiveness, and as a result, built trust?

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at People Results and certified facilitator for Inspiring Trust. She can be reached on email at or on Twitter at @BetsyWinkler1.