Often people ask how can a manager who hasn’t built trust do so by conducting Stay Interviews. We usually then rattle off the four skills we train managers to use: listen, probe, take notes, and take responsibility. They wonder what the latter means but presume they fully understand the first three, including listen.

Most people, though, think listening is akin to hearing. Or sitting silently while maintaining eye contact and bobbing one’s head. In other words, giving someone the full floor to speak without interruption.

We give the greatest indications of listening, though, when we speak. This might sound counter-intuitive, but what we say after someone has spilled their guts matters the most.

Good is when we tell them we heard what they said. For example, a manager may repeat back the employee’s words, “You said you needed 3 more days to complete the project and I understand your reasons why. Did I get it right?”

Better though, is to identify their emotions. Building onto the quote above for example: “You seem really frustrated by this project, and I know that’s not a good feeling. So, you need three more days to finish it and I understand why. Did I get it right?”

Listening for emotions versus just hearing

The difference is listening for emotions shows you care about the person versus just the project. Our brains are designed so that all incoming information from the five senses hits the base near the spinal cord first and then moves onto the limbic system. That name isn’t important but this is: all incoming information reaches the emotional part of our brain first. Think about it: if you smell a good smell you first think it’s a good smell, then later where it came from.

Some of us move information from our limbic system to the part of our brain that controls rational thinking quickly and some move more slowly. But all of us have those moments where we stay emotional for a while, over a project, a relationship, or whatever. This is when we are most vulnerable to others making us feel better, or worse, and building relationships from that point on.

Here’s a good rule going forward. When anyone approaches us about any subject they are emotional about, their emotions are the main event and the subject is second. So, addressing their emotions shows we care, helps them express them to us, and then clears the way to address their issue. This leads them to trust us more.

Think about the most emotional encounter you had in the past week. One example would be a customer who says something like, “My order was to be ready yesterday and it’s STILL not ready!” A good response would be:

“Sir, you seem really frustrated about us being late and I would feel frustrated, too. Let me tell you what we did wrong and how we’ll make it better for you”.

Not so good would be “Let me tell you why we’re late.”

The difference of course is recognizing the customer’s emotion. The same method works with bosses, spouses, kids…everyone. Because universally we all want to be heard, and when we’re emotional we want our emotions to be acknowledged.

Can managers learn to build trust when conducting Stay Interviews? Absolutely, yes, as long as they practice good listening skills during training and then put them to work.