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When the CEO is really listening, things change

‘Khun Raj, in our last session you told me you wanted to improve your listening skills,” I tell my coaching client. “We watched a YouTube clip of Oprah Winfrey interviewing the famous Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh on Compassionate Listening.

“The clip helped you to identify some of the behaviours of great listeners: maintain eye contact, use interjections to acknowledge the speaker, nod your head, and summarise what you’ve heard. You said you would practise summarising for two weeks. Today, I want to follow up on it.”

“Coach Kriengsak, I’ve tried very hard since we talked last,” Raj tells me. “It’s amazing how small things like this can change a lot of other things. Now people engage with me more. In the past when I met one-on-one with my team members, I spoke 90% of the time. Now, I listen 80% of the time and the other person speaks most of the time.”

“Khun Raj, can you give me some practical examples?”

“Okay. Let me I share with you the conversation I had yesterday with Khun Tan, our CFO. Here is what happened:

“She came to me in my office and said: ‘Khun Raj, I’m studying the possibility of having additional bankers as the economy will be slowing down further. You can see that …’ and she went on for a minute or so.

“After she’d finished I said to her, ‘Khun Tan, let me summarise what you just told me, so we’ll have the same understanding. You told me that you want to borrow more money because the economy is slowing down …’ Her facial expression showed that she disagreed with my interpretation, so I asked her, ‘What’s wrong?’

“She said: ‘I want to have additional bankers available as a backup plan, not borrow more money.’ Now I understood, and I summarised her views accordingly.

“The point is, this encounter reminded me that I often misunderstood things in the past because I always jumped to conclusions. In this case, if I hadn’t summarised, I would have complained to my CFO and asked her why would we need to borrow more money when our cash flow was already healthy. Then I probably would have told her that she wasn’t using sound judgement in managing finance.

“So you see, periodically summarising helps me a lot because I have to restate what I heard. Then, if I’ve misunderstood, it gives people the chance to clarify or explain to me what the real message is.

“From now on, I will summarise as much as I can.”

“Khun Raj, you just gave me about a practical example of summarising with your CFO yesterday. It helped you understand her message better. It also enlightened you and made you realise that in the past you jumped to conclusions a lot because you didn’t hear things correctly. Now you want to summarise as much as you can.”

“That’s correct, Coach. Great summarising!”

“Okay Khun Raj, what else have you been learning from practising listening skills?”

“Summarising is not easy. It’s not in my comfort zone. I have to be conscious all the time in order to listen to my people. How do I ensure that I always pay attention?”

“You said it’s not easy. You have to be aware all the time to listen to others. You want to ensure that you always pay attention, am I correct?”

He nods.

“Why did you ask this question?”

“Coach, I asked because I worry I may go back on autopilot. Instead of listening attentively, I would start thinking about other things while the other person speaks.”

“You just told me that when you aren’t speaking, instead of listening you have a tendency to think. What do you think about?”

“Coach, I usually think about things such as:

- What will I say after the speaker finishes talking?

- What is my next activity after this meeting?

- What will I do about other problems?”

I summarise the three reasons he just gave me, and Raj nods and reflects. Suddenly, he exclaims, “Coach, while I was listening to you summarising, I got an insight. I thought I was so stupid. I have to pay attention to now, not to the future.

“What I mean is, when I misunderstand what’s going on in the present, consequently I will have problems in the future. And it will be a never-ending cycle. I will create more problems because I rarely understand what’s going on. The answer is very clear to me. I have to do it right the first time by really understanding. And summarising will be a crucial solution for me.”

“That’s great. How do you ensure you will always summarise what you’ve heard?”

“Coach, I think that for the next two weeks, I will tell my people before any conversation that I am deliberately practising my listening, particularly summarising skills. They will have to tell me if I’m not doing it. At the end of each day, I will record how many times I did this. I’ll let you know how I did when we meet next.”

“Khun Raj, that’s great.”

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at