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ATD Blog

What Makes a Good Manager: The Case for Listening and Assessing Skills

Monday, March 21, 2016

In a recent poll conducted by ATD, learning executives indicated that one of the most important skill areas for managers is listening and assessment skills. In fact, 71 percent of respondents indicated that listening and assessing is a critical skill area needed for managerial success. Other top-rated skill areas include communication, engagement, collaboration, and accountability. In the context of ATD’s poll, listening and assessing involves the information-gathering, critical thinking, and processing skills of a manager during interactions with direct reports. Listening and assessing also encompasses emotional intelligence, which entails recognizing your own and others’ emotions and using emotional information to guide your behavior. Managers who are adept at listening and assessing use this skill area to identify areas of improvement in direct reports. 

Listening is a foundation for other skills. For example, listening allows managers to gather necessary information to communicate with employees effectively and also sets the right tone for engagement. However, many managers are lacking in this area. One in four leaders has a listening deficit. A study conducted by the American Management Association found that 59 percent of respondents believe that management does not listen to their concerns. Other research indicates that only 12 percent of participants believe their employer genuinely listens to and cares about them. 

Additionally, management’s failure to listen may be causing substantial losses in productivity. One study found that people in a position of power actually listen less, take advice less often, and make less accurate judgments than those who were not in a position of power. When managers do not listen to their direct reports, which appears from the research to be a common scenario, they are more likely to make less accurate final judgments. 

Gallup further connects caring and listening to engagement. For example, they found that “caring predicts employee and workgroup performance and that links powerfully to crucial business outcomes, including productivity and profitability. Employee engagement is based on an employee feeling that she matters, that she contributes, and that the people she works for and with value her as a person and an employee.” Moreover, Gallup states that two-way dialogue creates engagement; simply talking isn’t enough. Instead, managers need to listen to their direct reports to improve engagement. 


To address the listening problem that many people deal with, talent development should focus on building active listening skills in managers. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Listen more than you speak”; this wisdom is particularly useful for managers in the workplace. Talent development should encourage managers to ask open-ended, nonleading questions and show nonverbal signs of listening when interacting with their direct reports. Other simple ways to practice active listening include nodding, paraphrasing what the other person says, and maintaining eye contact. These small behaviors can show employees that their manager cares. 


A lack of listening can affect a company’s bottom line. The good news is that talent development can help fix this critical business problem by providing managers with opportunities that focus on developing necessary listening skills. 

To learn more about listening, click here.

About the Author

Megan Cole is a former ATD research analyst. Her primary responsibilities included creating and programming surveys, cleaning and analyzing data, and writing research reports for publication.

She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Florida and earned a doctorate in communication from Arizona State University. 

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