Leadership Strategies: Damn it, Listen to Me!

Over the years, I’ve heard from leaders is that getting them to listen to me is one of the hardest obstacles to success. In this article, I address 4 levels of communication that will help you overcome this block.

Do you remember playing the game “Whispering Down the Lane” as a kid? Kinda old school, however, it should be required for any work team to learn about communication.

Here’s the way it’s played:

Group sits in a circle. The first person whispers to the person on right, something like, “Today is beautiful and I think we will get lots of work done.” The whispering continues to next person until it goes around the circle and comes back to the first participant, who then repeats aloud what they have heard.

It’s usually something like “I hate this damn game and can’t wait to get the hell out of here.”Hummmm!

I have always wondered what happens when words from my mouth travel invisibly over the airwaves to someone else’s ears. I wonder how with such limited communication skills we ever move forward in any relationships, at work or at home.

There’s an old “joke” from my family therapy days: A daughter who never got along with her father is sitting two seats away at a wedding. She meant to say, “pass the salt,” but instead said, “You ruined my life you mean, nasty bastard.” This used to be called a Freudian slip. Now we call it “the way of the world.”


Today, we are so obsessed with social media and smartphones we spend much of our time super distracted and can’t even hear the honk of a horn or the whistle of an oncoming train.

This video is a modern version of the limitations we have about our newest nemesis, technology, and communication.


When we were tiny babies we learned to talk by mimicking grown-ups. While we learned to talk and walk by some inner mechanisms, most often, no one ever taught us how to listen, what to listen for, and equally important, how to respond.

There are four levels of communication to address:

  • CONVERSATION: This is polite, skim the surface way for limited encounters. It’s the smile and nod technique. You meet someone and say “How are you?” and they respond, “Fine thanks.” Easy, breezy and onto what’s next.
  • DEBATE: The world of winners and losers shows up here. This is based, at best on facts and innuendos, and at worst on rumors and gossip. It’s a ‘dog eat dog’ area where it’s constant punch and jab and punch and jab.
  • DIALOGUE: This is a more mature way of responding where you really work at listening and building on another’s point of view. Everyone uses the bits of information from the others to come to new and better perspectives than you would ever get alone. Work collaboration soars with this method.
  • TRUTH TELLING: This takes courage and calmness. Truth sentences are short and do not have an edge of blame to them. It’s about expressing your emotions, so you can be heard and also to reciprocally listen while taking deep breaths and looking for ways to come to a new level of understanding.

Want to get a better handle on how you communicate? Take our communication quiz and begin to listen with unplugged ears.

We all communicate with body and mind. The words we choose, the tone of voice we use, the body language we exhibit, even the speed with which we talk, are all part of communication.

Sylvia Lafair

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