Marci’s Favorite Listening Phrases

A few years ago, one of my peers asked me to accompany him into a meeting with our collective boss at the time, to help support him in a difficult discussion.

In short, our boss was not happy about something that occurred and my peer disagreed with his approach. In the meeting, my peer shared a bunch of professional, yet direct thoughts and opinions and our boss listened. This went on for about 15 minutes and at the end of the discussion our boss said something that was genius. “I need some time to process your feedback. Let me think about what you said and get back to you.”

I loved this statement because it showed he was listening to my peer, but was smart enough not to react or disagree in the heat of the moment.

On a pretty regular basis, we are all served up with feedback, ideas or opinions that we may not be ready to react to in that exact moment. It would not be politically correct to tell a customer or a colleague something like, “Dan, I understand what you are saying, but you know what? I did not get any sleep last night, and I am tired and cranky and really don’t feel like listening to you right now. In fact I need some time to surf Instagram and get away from reality for a few minutes. See ya.”  LOL.

We might ponder a statement like that, but in reality we need to react in a professional manner, and ideally one that shows we are listening, that we care and in a way that maintains the other person’s self-esteem.

Over time, my approach to using “listening phrases” has evolved into a personal, unwritten (until this blog post) toolkit that I add to, and re-use over and over again. Here are a few related tips.

In email or IM: One thing that I do quite a bit in email or instant message communication, is reply with the verb “noted” (defined as – to take notice of). If someone sends me something that I know they want me to react to, or even just a FYI or CC, I’ll reply in email with, “Thanks for the email. Your idea/thought is noted” and then add whatever pleasantries are necessary. This simple word noted tells the person that you read their email, you may not agree, but you listened and have absorbed what they said.

In any context: A few other phrases I use when I need time to think or process, and show I am listening are:

  • Can I think about this and get back to you?
  • That is an interesting idea.
  • You bring up some good points.
  • Those are very valid concerns.
  • You did a great job making your case and sharing the pros and cons. Can I take some time to think about this?

The hallway surprise: What do you do if someone stops you in a hallway to ask for your opinion on something, and you can not handle it at that moment? I will often joke how my senior brain cannot always remember things that I cannot write down, and I encourage them to send me an email reminder or set up a time on my calendar. Most do and then we can have the conversation at a time when I can really listen.

Something to avoid: One business phrase that I am not a fan of is, “I don’t disagree”.  This seems to be used at times, when others do not want to agree with you, or may only agree with part of what you said, but do not want to stir things up. For fun I Googled this phrase to see what popped up and found “I don’t disagree” or IDD for short, is disliked by many others. Fellow blogger, Steve Smith, wrote an entire blog post about this phrase linked here. In his post, Steve points out that:

  • Disagree means have a different opinion
  • Thus I don’t disagree transforms to I don’t have a different opinion
  • I don’t have a different opinion is logically equivalent to I have the same opinion
  • I have the same opinion is logically equivalent to I agree
  • Therefore, I don’t disagree  is logically equivalent to I agree
  • However if you then ask the person using IDD directly, “do you agree”, they will often say “no”

The Urban Dictionary points out that, “I don’t disagree” essentially means, “I hear what you’re saying, but I still think you’re full of sh$t.”  My personal view is we need IDD to come out of our business vocabulary.

In closing: We live and work in an environment where communication is constant and sometimes instant, and showing that you are listening is more important than ever before. Silence is not acceptable.

We all need to determine our own inventory of methods or key phrases that reflect our unique personalities, and show we are listening, that we care and that communicate in a way that maintains the other person’s self-esteem.

Do you use any very effective listening phrases? Please add them to the comments.