Better Get a Bucket: Tips for Listening with Care

I believe that after integrity,  listening is the second most important leadership skill.

And… it is also one of the most difficult.

Listening well is hard.  Listening well, consistently, is even harder.

Lately, I have been paying more attention to what is happening when the listening is good.

The key is having some good buckets– categories to help you organize what you hear, and to feed it back.

People need to know that you  have heard them… that you are with them… and that you got the gist.

Buckets help you organize your listening and feedback.

One on One

Imagine an emotional co-worker coming to you with a long story about why a project is in jeopardy.  You listen intently to what she has to say, and look for the main ideas.  After she is done, you can respond with empathy and understanding.

“I am hearing three main concerns here… let me see I have this right… “and then spill your buckets.

Helping someone to organize their own thoughts makes them feel better, and usually calmer.  Situations seem easier to tackle when they are simplified into groups.

Bigger Groups

This also works in larger contexts as well.  I recently watched an executive who was hosting a big conference get up every 3 hours and feedback the big ideas he heard from each speaker.  He put his buckets on display, reinforced key messages, and modeled the level of listening that should be happening.

I have also used this technique in large town hall meetings.  Rather than respond to every comment, I listen intently and then share  (and respond to) the main buckets of issues.

There is value in the trying

Of course sometimes, your buckets will be wrong.  That’s okay.

It at least helps the conversation along in a productive way.

Try taking a bucket to your next meeting.  It’s exciting to see what might fill it up.

What other skills do you find help with effective listening?


5 responses to this post.

  1. Reblogged this on The Eloquence Academy and commented:
    Listen like a leader. Most importantly, understand the perspective that the speaker is coming from.


  2. Yes, perspective is so important. Thanks for joining in the conversation.


  3. Posted by marcus on June 16, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    i used to teach bucketing to my 10th graders. it helped with a document based question assignment in which they had to sort through 11-15 documents to decide and support a thesis. they needed to reduce the articles to topic sentences/paragraphs.


  4. I could not agree more about the importance of letting people know that “you are with them” when they are speaking to you.

    In my public speaking classes, I place great focus on the importance of being a good audience, which of course depends on demonstrating strong active listening skills.

    Here are three tips I usually share with my students:

    1) Adapt yourself to the speakers style: Not everyone is easy to listen to, and some folks have idiosyncrasies that make listening to them downright difficult. They have stories, too. Work to get past the distraction. The rewards are often rich.

    2) Mentally summarize the speaker’s key message in your own words, and repeat the paraphrase a few times to aid memorization.

    3) Look like your listening. Make eye contact. Respond with appropriate facial expressions. Maintain an open posture. Just as the mere act of smiling can alter your mood for the better, I believe that not only does modelling these behaviors make you “seem” like a good listener, they actually can help make you one.


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