Listening Redux: First rule to success in business

Filed in Sharisax Is Out There 45 comments

The tip may be deeper than we think

My SFSU Business Communication students learn three rules to Business Success in their first class session:

(1) Listen Carefully

(2) Read Carefully

(3) Follow ALL Directions

The suggestion to students — and everyone — that active listening is a skill can be easily disregarded as many people simply hear the tip and move on.

That is, they get ready for the next “rule” without really understanding the implications, and the difficulty, of what it means to really listen.

An earlier post of mine When communication adds up to a big fat zero proposed that all the new technology and accompanying tools and tactics were of little value if strategic planners did not first begin by Listening Carefully to online voices in their community.

This advice reverberates through the web in social media blog posts countless times every day. Today, in fact,  a Brian Solis update on my Facebook stream pointed to PR 2.0 guest poster Michael Brito‘s rant against companies that listen but don’t act.


Last evening’s rigorous SFSU Business Communication class [we were learning to write business reports] was sweetened with an anecdote from one student who had really learned the power and rewards of LISTENING CAREFULLY at work that very afternoon.

New to his position in a downtown business, my student was invited to a meeting featuring a high level executive from headquarters. He [we’ll call him Adam, not his real name] had heard that this exec was noted for long, sometimes very dry speeches. But Adam was determined to pay close attention and practice all the “active listening” tips we had discussed in class.

“It was hard because lots of my coworkers were chatting and not paying attention, but just the same I wanted to focus on what was being said. I kept thinking about how important that was,” Adam told me.

The speaker did go on and on. And as hard as it was for Adam to keep his focus, he managed to do it . . .

And then the speaker stopped, looked around the room, and asked “Who heard what I just said?”

There was silence.

Adam cautiously raised his hand and repeated the last few facts related by the speaker, who acknowledged the response and asked Adam to stay behind after the meeting.

Adam was terrified, but not for long. After the meeting, the executive shook his hand, asked for his name and position, and said:

Good job, Adam. I’m going to be looking out for you. You are bound to go far in this company.

Adam was overjoyed and naturally was bursting to tell me. I was overjoyed and bursting to tell my audience — both Adam’s classmates and my blog readers.

What would our business and personal lives be like if we ALL made even small efforts to listen carefully when people were talking to us and with us?

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Posted by Shari Weiss   @   7 August 2009
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Aug 7, 2009
4:30 pm
#1 Petya Somleva :


thank you for sharing Adam’s story. What a perfect example of how listening can pay off in any business setting! I would like to add that listening is also a huge factor in the success of personal relationships. Becoming an effective listener can lead to nothing but greatness, both in the business world and at home!

Aug 9, 2009
2:26 pm
#2 Melina Triantos :


I will always remember this story because listening is a skill that we all take for granted. It does not matter what type of setting, formal or informal, if people are pretending to listen to you, you can feel it right away. There is no better feeling than knowing that others are really listening to what you have to say because it shows that they care. It seems to me that Adam has a bright future ahead.


Aug 9, 2009
5:57 pm
#3 Liz Looney :

The importance of listening in communication is enormous and, in my opinion, goes unnoticed by many. Adam’s example is one that everyone should read. Too often do people believe that powerful speaking equals good communication — when, in all actuality, that is not the case.

Instead, the ability to listen, in addition to speaking properly, is equally as important in communication. If we all made small efforts to listen more carefully, we would see the results. After all, good listeners are often thought provoking speakers because they have truly taken the time to understand what people are interested in. It’s a simple, yet sometimes difficult task to do, but effective listening can only help you in the long run, especially in today’s business world.

Aug 10, 2009
12:17 am
#4 Jessica Bux :

The first lesson from your Business Communication class: listen carefully, read carefully, and follow ALL directions.

I am going to remember these three rules in my whole life; they are really useful not only able to succeed in business, but also in our life. The student who told his story really did a great job. Thanks for you sharing.

Aug 11, 2009
5:41 pm

I have to totally agree that listening is very important both in personal and business settings. I had a similar story once and my reward was I got to skip the whole test and leave class early! I realize sometimes that it may be hard to listen to a person especially when the person can be un-enthusiastic or you just don’t care what they are talking about, but it will all come down to respect. You respect the speaker by actively listening, like what Adam did, and who knows you could gain something valuable just by listening.

Aug 12, 2009
1:09 pm
#6 Junko :


I think we tend to focus on more speaking than listening. Why? Speaking seems to be more valuable than just listening? But we usually prefer the person who listen to our story, like Adam’s case. The executive thought Adam is a courteous and trustworthy person. Actually, we can make people happy just “listen carefully,” and it really shows our attitude toward other people. Who can provide a good opinion, feedback, or idea without listen carefully? I appreciate you taught us this essential skill at the first meeting of the class.

Aug 12, 2009
4:26 pm
#7 Alanna :

There would be a lot less confusion and misunderstanding- especially in my personal life. A lot of people I interact with don’t know what listening really is. Listening adds value to what is being said and it leads to a productive conversation. There are many times that I’ve opted not to listen and all it does is waste time, because whoever was talking has to repeat themselves, or I go right ahead and do the wrong thing. Listening is crucial, and I’m glad we’ve learned a lot about its value in your class!

Aug 12, 2009
9:13 pm
#8 Carissa Way :

Listening Redux is a great blog on active listening. The example given is definitely what I wish everyone would try to do. If everyone were to active listen the way “Adam” did there would be a lot less confusion and a lot more understanding everywhere. In the workplace tasks or projects would get done more efficiently because employees would listen carefully to instructions and know how to ask appropriate questions. Listening anywhere in the world can also help generate ideas for things whether it has to do with business or personal life. Great question.

Aug 12, 2009
9:58 pm
#9 Jessica Jew :

Thank you Shari for sharing this insightful information with us. If people were able to Listen More Carefully, then they would be more successful in life. For those who are business majors like myself, we should all take Shari’s advice and listen more and in return we could end up getting something beneficial out of the experience, just like the student mentioned in this blog. By putting in small efforts like listening carefully, you will be seen as an asset to the company. I would advise anyone to follow the three rules if you want to be successful in life.

Aug 12, 2009
10:35 pm
#10 Thomas :

Listening carefully has become even more important in my life. If you are not listening carefully, a lot of important things will be lost. Moreover, I have learned many more business tips in your class and qm so happy to have been your student. Thank you very much!!!

Aug 12, 2009
10:39 pm
#11 Brendan Alcisto :

Fellow employees, managers, and executives are individual leaders and are important to listen to because there is much experience and knowledge from their past experiences. Learning the “do’s-and-don’ts” of the business, we should all take the time to listen, understand, and apply these “tips.” Many businesses and individuals can learn from these tips to avoid the same mistakes or capitalize on great advice.

Aug 13, 2009
12:02 am
#12 Synang Chhan :

Who would have thought two little words “Listen Carefully” can hold so much weight in the process of learning. Listen carefully shows the other party that you care about what they have to say, and that you are willing to see their point of view. Adam’s story was a great example of how active listening comes to play and how it does pay to listen. I believe Adam’s story is simply to take into account the importance of active listening, in fact, even the smallest effort can make such a huge difference in order to make it in the professional world. Many people will appreciate the attentive listening skills, and you will essentially be internally rewarded.

Aug 13, 2009
12:11 am
#13 Gwen Martinez :

The business and personal lives of many would be a lot better if we all listen carefully. There are many things we can learn and look out for if we all just listened. People would be more caution and alert to good and bad things that could happen to them. Although at times it may be difficult to listen to everything said, it can be the most helpful when needed.

Aug 13, 2009
12:54 am
#14 Courtney Creswell :

Listening to others when they are sharing their thoughts with us is very important. It opens us up to other ideas and new perspectives. Instead of looking at it like this, most people look at listening as something that is depriving. The fact of the matter is, people like themselves and they like when people take an interest in them. Being this is the case, when most people are engaging in a conversation they are waiting to talk, which distracts them from listening. Their minds are so occupied with trying to collect their thoughts so they can speak, they miss the point. Because of this people are missing an opportunity to learn from others. Everyone comes from a different place in the world and therefore has a different experience that is worth listening to. They have been somewhere we haven’t and we will never know about it if we never STOP and LISTEN…Pay attention to how you listen.

Aug 13, 2009
12:58 am
#15 Jessica Bux :

This post reminded me about the first Bus 360 lesson. Since I am a foreign student, I am not an expert in English language. “Listen Carefully, Read Carefully, and Follow ALL Directions” is meaningful for me because this is all I need to learn if I want to survive in the United States.

I remember the first day of Bus 360, I had no idea what was going on. And today, I know how to write business letters; that is so amazing for me. I can’t say I am good on writing since I am a ESL student. But after this class, I will continue practice my writing skills.

Shari’s lessons have been a great experience in my life. I feel my English skills have improved a lot after this class. I love this class because it’s full of interaction. People worked together, not only just sit and listen to what the professor said.

Aug 13, 2009
1:41 am
#16 suqin chen :

Listen carefully, read carefully, and follow ALL directions. Those three rules I learned from your business communication class. They are not only rules to be a successful business person, but also to be a successful student. i think those three rules will be useful throughout my whole life.

Aug 13, 2009
10:46 am
#17 Ashley Acosta :

Hi Shari,

As a result of your emphasis on “listening carefully”, I have really become aware of when I am not. Prior to your class, most people told me I was a good listener and I didn’t think much about listening more carefully. The small seed you planted on the first day of class has subconciously alerted me to the times I let myself drift and only appear to be listening carefully.

I have to thank you for driving this point home. If the world was lucky enough to be taught to listen carefully, I imagine many of our conflicts would cease to exist. In my own family, “you never listen” is an all too common gripe. Perhaps the torched has passed and it’s our turn to teach.


Aug 13, 2009
11:58 am
#18 Krystal Rodriguez :

If everyone paid close attention and listened carefully in our professional and personal lives, things would get done a lot quicker. The amount of time wasted on having to explain yourself again could have been spent on working on other tasks. Listening carefully allows you to be more productive in life. If you listen carefully in the business world, that will allow you to move ahead of others that don’t listen carefully.

Aug 13, 2009
2:21 pm
#19 Emily Holtz :

Shari, your advice about listening carefully is tremendously valuable in the context of school as well.

This summer I took a course in Macroeconomics but I didn’t have a lot of time to study or review at home. My approach was to pay attention in class and keep my focus no matter how bored I was on any given day.

When I was reviewing for my final this morning, I found that there was actually very little that I didn’t understand! I saved a lot of time by listening carefully to the information the first time around.

Aug 13, 2009
4:51 pm
#20 Marcela Ayala :

Hi Shari,

I been trying to follow the 3 rules Listen Carefully,Read Carefully and Follow ALL Directions.And so far it has helped me in my homework assignments, even the relationship with my mother since she loves to talk and talk.
I think we all applied these three concepts we would improve many aspects of our communication with friends, relatives, and even doing the most simple things like following all directions when you drive. For instance if you follow all the rules and pay attentio to the road your insurance premium can lower.

Aug 13, 2009
4:58 pm
#21 Mela Asfaha :

If everyone would listen carefully to what another person is saying I believe that they could understand rather than just hear what is being said. It can prevent from making assumptions and ignorance. It could help developing a better relationship with the person that is speaking. And a very good example is Adam’s experience with his boss.

Mela Asfaha

Aug 13, 2009
5:37 pm
#22 Ruben Garza :

If we all took the initiative to listen carefully we might learn more, feel more, and get more out of life.

Life is full of noise and that can be disheartening. We need to focus on our surroundings less — by listening more.

A conversation might lead to a new thrill, journey, or job opportunity. Business environments tend to stagnate over time becoming boring rather than lucid. Being lucid makes things easy to hear and understand.

Therefore, by hearing what is being said there is opportunity for clear negotiations, a path towards understanding others.

Aug 17, 2009
8:26 pm
#23 David Nguyen :

There are a couple of ways to look at this: If you listen, you can lose yourself. For example, listening to a boxing promoter about boxing for money instead of for the glory and respect. However, listening can create more wisdom in the world and more awareness to others. The choice is yours.

Oct 31, 2009
2:19 pm
#24 Misgun Derso :

The narrative story is really amazing which followed by listening carefully. I agree with what you said,”What would our busi­ness and per­sonal lives be like if we ALL made even small efforts to lis­ten care­fully when peo­ple were talk­ing to us and with us?” Listening carefully is very important in our daily life, and as we listen more we learn more for the better.

Oct 31, 2009
2:21 pm
#25 Harry To :

When someone is talking, sometimes it is very difficult to actively listen. There might be outside distraction. Happens to me all the time. In the end, Adam was able to follow what the speaker was saying and it paid off. Hopefully, everybody will follow the “Listen Carefully” rule because great stuff will always occur.

Oct 31, 2009
2:26 pm

Your student’s anecdote is very convincing. I plan to major in business administration so these three rules will be really helpful for me. Lis­ten carefully, read carefully, fol­low all directions. From now on, I will try to pay more attention while people talk, so I can better understand what they say.

Oct 31, 2009
2:27 pm
#27 Diana Litxayaleuth :

I would have to say listening carefully would be one rule that you never forget. It is the key to most success.

If everyone around you is talking, it’s hard to hear. You may need to ask people to quiet down or get closer to the speaker. If you miss one important thing that’s being said, the rest can be difficult to understand.

I am really happy for Adam because it shows that he doesn’t have to follow what everyone is doing. He listened and now he knows more and will make it to the top.

Oct 31, 2009
2:29 pm
#28 Rhonesha V :

This reminds me of elementary when my teachers told me that If I didn’t close my mouth and open my ears, I would have a hard time getting things done when I got older.I believe that If individuals stopped and actually took the time to listen carefully instead of half listening or blowing things off, perhaps their lives would be a bit easier. It shows the speaker respect and hopefully you gain something from it as well.

Author Oct 31, 2009
3:38 pm
#29 Shari Weiss :

Great story, Rhonesia. Thanks for sharing. We all need reminders.

Oct 31, 2009
2:30 pm
#30 Keil Schirrmacher :

Listening is key to everything. For example: relationships, work, and school. I find that anything that needs to get done has a list of directions that need to be followed. Listening carefully, Reading Carefully and following all directions are three things that apply to life in general.

Oct 31, 2009
2:32 pm
#31 tonirochelle :

You probably spend more time using your listening skills than any other kind of skill. Like other skills, listening takes practice — a whole lot of it.

And most people only listen to what they want to listen to — if it interests them.

Real listening is an active process:
* Hearing to catch what the person is saying.
* Understanding is what you take in.
* Judging it does it make sense.

You have to give the speaker your full attention, focus,and listen before speaking. Then ask questions and give feedback. With practice listening, you will also be able to think about what you are hearing and really understand it.

Oct 31, 2009
2:33 pm

By reading this I started understanding more why the process is so important. At first I was thinking “oh they just want us to pay more attention.” But when you really think about it, the rule is there so you can be successful.
I see it now. Your path to success will basically these three rules.

Oct 31, 2009
2:37 pm
#33 Brittany :

I have heard these rules of success repeatedly for the past several weeks. But Shari can never stress them enough.

Though simple to understand, it remains harder than ever to live these simple instructions. If one can master these simple rules, success will follow.

I still struggle with these instructions and is a day-to-day challenge. But I feel I am on my way.

Oct 31, 2009
2:45 pm
#34 Donna B. :

“Listening Redux First Rule to Success” mentions three rules to “Active Listening”: 1) Listen Carefully 2) Read Carefully & 3) Follow All Directions.

I find the steps to be most importantly needed in today’s society whether in the workforce or personal life. A lot of people do not succeed because they have poor listening skills and miss out on the most important part being said.

People usually hear what they want to hear and misconstrue what was said and may be unable to complete a task. Therefore it is better to listen and hear with a full understanding.

Oct 31, 2009
3:08 pm
#35 andrinea :

If everybody had good active listening skills, then there wouldn’t be so much time being spent going over what had just been said.

For instance, when I’m in class, if the teacher explains to us what she wants us to do, there is always somebody that says “can you repeat that I don’t remember what you said.” I’m not saying everybody is perfect even I do it sometimes.

Oct 31, 2009
3:26 pm
#36 Yuet Tse :

These three rules are kind of difficult for me because English is my second language. The most difficult rule for me is listen carefully. When I don’t understand what the teacher is talking about, I just give up and talk to my friends, and then the teacher is angry on me.

In the story above, I feel that I am one of the coworkers who was chatting and not paying attention. I must follow the rules and learn English; otherwise I can’t survive in the school.

Author Oct 31, 2009
3:37 pm
#37 Shari Weiss :

Yuet, of course, the first step is to recognize the problem. The second is to make a plan to solve the problem. And, naturally, the third step is to DO IT.
Good luck 🙂

May 19, 2010
10:03 pm
#38 LaMesha Reed :

Active listening can become very important in the work field because it can show who is really there for the position. Active listening can also help in everyday life. I need to practice more on active listening in my college classes.

May 19, 2010
10:15 pm
#39 Erin :

I think the rules are not only good in school, but also very important in life.

May 19, 2010
10:27 pm
#40 Lawrence H :

Interesting! It would appear Adam had a very wise and intelligent boss. The advice and story is very good but the street goes both ways. You must also have a boss who recognizes when employees are striving for excellence.

May 19, 2010
10:51 pm
#41 Luis :

Active listening is really important in my career; people depend on my knowledge in order to be safe in their aircraft. Active listening will eventually allow all of us to achieve our goals.

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