Aggressive listening and what it could mean for employee performance

When I was growing up in hotels, as most of you are in the Marriott family, this was true in your industry. If you were a good front desk clerk, like you came in and you learned the task, you learn how to check people in and out or if you were a great front desk clerk, a great housekeeper, a great restaurant server or a bartender, if you did that job well, that person would get promoted and suddenly, you’re supervising people.

Be a champion for your people

Obviously, there are great corporations that are known for having incredible training and development programs. We did a lot of training and there was a time many of you senior leaders with Marriott were guaranteed 40 hours of training every single year and it was a big deal. You had to track it in the computer system and I’m not sure how it is now, but the reason I bring this up is because a lot of times if you were good at doing a job doing tasks, then you were promoted to become a manager in that same discipline or even in another one.

My question for you is, did you feel like you got enough time getting trained, as much time as you spent mastering the computer systems in your department, the processes or what you’re supposed to wear, or how you’re supposed to talk to customers? You know, how much training did you get on building trust? Increasing synergy or improving alignment? I spend all my time with teams talking about how to build trust and how to cultivate a strengths-based team.

Through the 80s and 90s, we were always talking about results, we still talk about results because they’re critical. But there’s a difference in being responsible on the front line for results and then becoming a manager or a leader of others. You’re responsible for the people who get the results, the people closest to your customers, your patients, or your sales people regardless of which type of industry or from.

If you work with me, we’re always talking about, “Hey, we need to focus on what your role is as a manager.” A leader in that organization is to take care of the people that are taking care of those tasks. Now a lot of places with less senior level managers are people that haven’t had as much experience leading people. They’ll tend to behave in ways that looks like micromanaging because their comfort level is to get in there and do the task.

As people are coming back to work from the virus, you have more junior level managers that are going to be first-time managers or first-time supervisors. Some of them are second, third, or fourth time managers of people but they still keep their focus on the task instead of genuinely taking care of the people who are supposed to take care of those pieces. Does that make sense? One of the key components of taking care of the people who are the closest to your users is the  power, connection and unity.

Be a champion for your people, right? Because if you’re not, who will be? Never mind the fact that they expect you to be there to take care of them and remove obstacles that are in their way of doing the best jobs they can every day. Never mind their expectations, the truth and reality is that once you become over people, it’s not your job to check the person.

What I really want to spend the most of my time doing are the other things that the people under me, my direct reports, can’t do which is to take care of them with this whole virus and all this uncertainty going on.

A players attract more A players

There’s one key thing that I think is the biggest skill involved in connection and it is called aggressive listening. Have you ever heard anyone talk about aggressive listening? I want to make sure that all of you that are leading people, get to a point where we can listen aggressively. People need to feel heard, when they feel heard and understood they will tend to follow you anywhere.

Do you remember being a new manager and you just wanted people to do what you so badly wanted them to do? The way you behave toward them, your body language, your eye contact, your tone of voice, and everything about the energy you put out towards them, it’s either “I need you to do what I need you to do because I’m the boss,” or it’s more of like, “Hey, what do you need from me? What’s in your way? You’re a superstar, I know you are.  My job is to get these things out of your way so that you can show up and kick ass the way that I know you can because you’re an A player and I’m an A player and that means I hire A player’s.”. You’ve heard that right? B players hire C players and C players hire D players, but A player’s hire A or A+ or A++ players. We get that he stronger the people are around me the better. I just have to take care of them.

So, I just wanted to emphasize one skill of connection and especially on your team’s.

You’ve got to get comfortable opening up. Take advantage of your meetings and the conversations you have. There are probably things on people’s minds and you, as their leader, I want you to roll out a red carpet for them to talk.

We call it emotional reflection. When I’m working with a team and trying to surface all the root causes of the limitations that they’re experiencing with their results.

It’s generally conversations that they need to have that they’re just not having. Everybody’s walking around thinking, “Gosh, I really wish we’d talk about what we really should talk about in meetings.”. Have you ever said that? Lord knows in my last 30 years and in my 20 years working in Corporate America, there were many times that I was at work thinking, “I wish my boss would just ask me this. Just ask me one question. Ask me this question and crack the door open and I’ll tell you what’s getting in our way,” because I knew I might not be confident enough to bring that that up unless I’m asked.

So, if you’re in that leadership position, I just want you to ask questions. There’s nothing that is going to hurt from listening. It doesn’t mean you change your opinion and doesn’t mean you give up any power. It actually means you get more power because your people, the people around you that need to work with you, will feel like you know them and you understand them.


There are a lot of important conversations that just aren’t happening right now. As a leader, when I work with my team, there are a few things that I want to do right away. Be aware, notice people’s nonverbal cues. If they’re clammed up, quiet, and they appear to be uneasy, notice and care about that.

You need the people you love to perform while they’re working with, for you, or besides you to perform at their highest level. If they are distracted at that level, if something is bothering them and they’re in their own head about where they are, please I want you to picture a pile of cash that’s just burning. It’s just on fire. It’s your money. It’s the company’s money. You’ll probably care more if it’s your money, but we need to think, “Hey, my performance in my career, progression, raises, and promotions are contingent upon me getting results today.”.

I want you to recognize that your people are your solution to getting those results. If they are on your team, they’re how you achieve results. You can’t do it all yourself. One thing I said yesterday that is relevant to this topic is that I can’t do it all myself. I might have gotten promoted because I’m a good do-er but now I’m in this leadership position with a team that I’m responsible and making sure there is fluid communication, collaboration, and alignment in those spaces is critical. It only takes one person to help change the game and really open the gate that allows for fluidity and it doesn’t have to be the boss. It takes a good communicator and it’s the one skill that is the most important to getting us there.

I can’t possibly serve you, take care of you, or support you unless I understand you and I know what’s going on with you. I want to make sure that we as leaders are not assuming that we know everyone’s story, everyone’s reality, everyone’s perception of the work place, the boss, or their challenges at home.

Here’s one of the most important factors with a team that is really maximizing their results.

“They are operating with the same set of facts and realities.”

Write that down.

The best way for a team to maximize results is if we’re all operating in the same set of realities and facts. Too often leaders are great persuaders by nature, right? Would you agree? We tend to want to tell people what to do. Right now, people need to be heard. The only way I know to get people to follow me is if they are assured that I know them, understand them, they know what they are worth, what they’re place is here, where they add value, and know what they need to do moving forward.

If you’re in any type of leadership role or if you’re in a position to influence other people or you simply need to partner with other people. It’s irrelevant if you agree with them about every point or not, it’s irrelevant how their personality is versus yours. The most important factor is that there is dialogue.

There are some of us that actually get so much fulfillment from listening to other people, getting to know them, and hearing about their specific individual story. Then there are other people that genuinely couldn’t care less about a stranger unless someone is a means to an end for them. They don’t want to listen to them. They don’t want to talk to them. They honestly don’t want to spend any time with them but if you’re in charge of a team of people, you’ve got to care and you’ve got to coach to do that really.

You have to listen to their reality, listen to respond and not listen to learn. Trust yourself that when it is time to respond it is when the other person stops talking or when there is an efficient pause you can tentatively insert yourself into. That’s a listening skill, right? Because I’ve listened to something you’ve said and then I’m going to respond back to it.

Be straightforward about your intentions

Clarify your intentions, we call that a contrasting skill. If you don’t know what that is, let me give you an example. Let’s say I wanted to go to one of you and give you some feedback. I’m not exactly sure how you’re going to take it so I start with a contrasting statement basically stating what you do want to accomplish and what you don’t want to see happen.

“Hey Jeff. I want to come and talk to you about what happened in the meeting yesterday. The reason I want to share it with you is because I want you and I to show up aligned when we go in front of other people that aren’t on our team, but I don’t want you to think I’m trying to say that you did something wrong.”. That’s a contrasting statement.

Another example is with my son. I might say, “Hey Ethan, I want to talk about you not getting the grass mowed but I want to have a conversation with you so that we can figure out how to help each other with the house chores. I am not in any way shape or form saying you’re in trouble or I’m mad that you didn’t get it done today by 3 o’clock.”. Let me say that first and then go into the conversation. Your intentions are not in a neon sign on your forehead before you start talking.

How many of you’ve been called to your boss’s office and they don’t tell you why you’re coming? Never do you think, “Oh, they’re going to give me some nice Tiffany Jewelry to say thank you for all my hard work!”. It’s never that, it’s all, “Oh no. What have I done?” Right?

Schedule time to do it or just when you feel like doing it, go on what I call a listening tour. Walk around and ask people on your team, “Hey, where are you at today? How are you feeling today?”. Pick up the phone, call your mom. When I need to call my mom, I want to be in a certain frame of mind where I can genuinely relax. I want to really be present with her. If I schedule that 8:00 a.m. every day I may not be in the same mind frame. So, if it’s hard for you to be present and listen to someone else without forming a judgment or preparing to respond, go pick up the phone and just say, “I had you on my mind yesterday. I saw you and just body language seemed to be a little stressed. Maybe I’m off base. I could be completely wrong, but I just wanted you to know that I noticed and I cared. Is there anything you want to talk about?”.  You know that just says upfront that this is a good time for me to listen, I can handle it recognize that just hearing or not talking isn’t aggressive listening.

If you are really listening to someone please for the love of everything close your laptop and put the phone down. There’s no way to make someone else genuinely believe you’re listening to them if you are multitasking. It’s not that you don’t have the ability to multitask, but for someone to really know that you’re right there with them, you can’t be doing those things. It’s not about what you’re doing, it’s about how you’re making them feel

I can’t possibly serve my clients unless I aggressively listen to them half of them. They don’t know what they’re trying to say to me and I need to be aggressive in getting them to talk more which means they talk more and I talked less. I am merely listening and seeking to understand genuinely.

As a leader of teams around the world in all kinds of environments with all kinds of socio-demographic states, I can tell you that if my team members feel like I ‘get’ them, they have followed me anywhere.  But you don’t just get them because you have a title, you get them because you know them and understand them. There’s only one way that I know how to do that really well and that’s to genuinely listen.

Thank you all for joining me today and I’ll talk to you guys tomorrow. Have a good day.