Best Employee Development Skill – Shut Your Mouth!

Asking Questions Then Staying Quiet and Being a Good Listener Will Help Employees Develop.

By Steve Schumacher


Over the years, one of the things I have found over and over again is that people are not good listeners. We all like to be heard and do not seem to have the patience to be good active listeners when other people are talking to us. This is true in our personal as well as our professional lives. We are all busy, and being a good listener takes time, and who has enough time?

I was asked recently to coach a manager, who had a goal of developing his employees, in hopes of having someone to replace him, so he could move up in the organization. The first thing I did with him was to observe how he interacted with his employees, one-on-one and in meetings.

Right away, I noticed that he talked a great deal and was not a very good listener. When others talked to him, he seemed to be preparing his response, instead of really paying attention to the other person.

After observing the manager’s behavior for a few days, we met and I shared my observations with him. I told him that, in order, to develop a replacement, he was going to have to become a much better listener. That meant not waiting for his turn to talk, but to ask good questions then SHUT UP!

If you feel like you need to develop your people more, you should consider taking a look at how you ask questions and listen to the answers to those questions. Here are a few tips:

Be willing to spend the time. Being a good listener requires you to invest time in the other people, paying attention to what they say. If your goal is to help your employees develop, you will be willing to invest that time, for their futures and for you to be able to pass more responsibility to them.

Ask open-ended questions. As people, we ask way too many closed-ended questions. Questions that can be answered quickly keep things moving and save us time, but they do little to develop people. Learn to ask questions like:

  • What do you see as some of the challenges in getting this done?
  • Why do you feel that is the best course of action?
  • Who do you think should be included on the team?
  • When do you estimate all of the project pieces will be completed?

Let people respond. I have seen many managers who, after asking a question, watch the employee hesitate a bit then answer the question for them. People do not develop that way. They simply learn to wait you out, knowing you will give them the right answer.

After you ask a good open-ended question, learn to wait for the response. Do not jump in! Only provide guidance if you are convinced the employee cannot come up with a helpful response.

Praise the responses. Just like anything else, when someone does something well, it is your job to let them know you noticed. When an employee gives you a good response to your question, give them a quick pat on the back for it. A little praise will go a long way in helping your employees develop.

Learn to discuss, not tell. Many times, when an employee brings a problem to you, you have probably been in there shoes before and know the answer to their problem. Your tendency will be to blurt out the answer and move on. If you do that, you missed an opportunity for that employee to develop greater skills. Work had at cutting back on telling people how to fix their problems. Keep asking them questions, and encouraging them, until they figure it out themselves.

The ability to develop people is a key aspect of your job, as a leader. The future of your employees, the company and your career depend on that development. A simple tool to help you, in the development of your employees, is asking good questions that make them think. It takes work to develop the habit, but it will be worth the effort.