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How to Tell If You’re Actually a Good Listener and More of Your Questions for October

Including why you should keep investing in employee training even if it feels like they keep leaving.




2 groups with megaphones shouting at each other

Our team is bitterly divided politically. I thought after the election it would get better, but it seems to be getting worse. Can I ban talking politics in our store?

Based on federal law, you can, especially if it has the potential to cause divisions among staff, harm their performance or hurt your overall business, although not if it involves the discussion of labor issues like the formation of unions or the national wage. That said, it’s usually better to stop short of that nuclear option — people generally don’t respond well to the perception that their right to express an opinion is being impinged. Call a meeting and say that for the sake of harmony, you don’t want politics discussed in the store. Your workers most likely have much more in common than whatever it is that divides them politically. Encourage those areas of commonality. Let everyone sneak a view of “the game” in the backroom when the local college or baseball team is playing.

We’ve had a number of employees leave in the last six months, people in whom we invested heavily in terms of time and training. Should we just give up on the training?

These are strange times. The economy is strong, the labor market is tight, and the pandemic and lockdowns seem to have encouraged people to think about making a change in their life. That said, we still think the old saw about training holds: Train employees well enough that they could get another job but treat them well enough so they never want to. So, yes, keep on investing in training because the reality is you have no choice. Do you want poorly trained staff tending to your best customers? At the same time, if you’re bleeding staff, you need to find out the reason. Are your pay rates no longer competitive? Is there an issue with a manager or a particular co-worker? Conduct exit interviews with leaving staff to see if you can uncover the reason … although keep in mind that exiting employees will often be strategic with the truth — they may tell you the commute is too long, but it’s your overbearing sister who runs the optical that they can’t get along with.

I never seem to be able to find time for creative thinking. Work is always a mad rush and my spare time is controlled by the kids. What should I do?

Having uninterrupted time to reflect is the key to creativity. Our brains rarely come up with their best ideas when we’re in meetings or in the store. In the past, businesspeople could expect to get some relief during the commute home but social media alerts can make that impossible today. The trick is to realize the importance of creative thinking and treat it how you would a business appointment. That means finding time for it on your weekly schedule. If you can’t build quiet time into your routine, the only alternative is to flee your usual surroundings, which means a walk in the woods or a long train trip somewhere. Or, even better, go nowhere. Leave your phone at home, unwrap a sandwich and just enjoy watching the scenery roll by. It’s amazing what a busy brain will come up with when given a break.

I asked a potential new hire (an office manager) to sign a two-year non-compete agreement but she says she doesn’t want to sign for longer than six months. Is there a standard acceptable term?

Yes, one year is pretty much the standard, says Suzanne Devries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions, adding it’s difficult for a non-compete agreement to hold up in court for more than a year. And many states take a dim view of efforts to limit a worker’s rights to earn a living. “Make sure you have a good labor attorney look it over, or write it for you, or it will not be worth the paper it’s written on,” she advises.

I fancy myself a good listener but perhaps a second opinion is needed.

Just about everybody thinks he or she’s a good listener. But if you’re in sales, networking expert Andrea Nierenberg suggests taking this quick test. Ask yourself the following questions and rate your listening skills from 1-5 (1 being “Not at all” and 5 being “Absolutely!” Be honest!

1.) Do I make sufficient eye contact?
2.) Do I ask for clarification?
3.) Do I show concern by acknowledging feelings?
4.) Do I try to understand the speaker’s point of view before giving mine?
5.) Am I poised and emotionally controlled?
6.) Do I react nonverbally with a smile or nod?
7.) Do I pay close attention and not let my mind wander?
8.) Do I avoid interrupting the speaker?
9.) Do I avoid abrupt subject changes?

If you scored yourself honestly, here are the results. If you scored 35 to 45, you’re an “exceptional” listener, 25 to 34 is “very good,” 20 to 24 gets you an “average” score and 15 to 19 merits a “keep working, you’ll improve” score. And, if you scored below 15, we suggest a career change. JK… but not really.



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