In 2009 a friend of mine, 18-year-old Eva Maria published a book titled “You Shut Up!” hoping to improve communication between adults and teens. “Adults need to shut up and listen to what young people are saying”, she said. Ten years later the generation gap between millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers in the workplace makes this message even more important. It’s hard to shut up and listen when the other person says things that make you feel uncomfortable. In these moments, learning to manage your own emotions is a vital skill.

I remember Lincoln, a hard-nosed foreman in an engineering workshop who barked orders at his young millennial workers and didn’t listen to them or care about what they had to say. To him they were unmotivated, disengaged and entitled and wouldn’t have anything to contribute to the workplace. That is, until he did the TUF training. It dawned on him that barking orders made managing his team hard work, created tension and lead to a high level of disengagement. He admitted that he was afraid of not knowing how to respond if these young guys shared their ideas and their feelings.

He learned that:

  • feelings were just feelings and didn’t need to be fixed
  • he could manage his own uncomfortable feelings when they arose
  • it was best to simply listen and acknowledge other people’s feelings without judgement

Lincoln realised he could try a new way.

He sat his team down and said “it’s time to hear from you guys. Tell me what’s really going on for you in this workplace”. He was afraid of what might come out, but was determined to do something different. He shut up and listened.

The results surprised, enlightened and amazed him. The boys did care about the work. They wanted to be fully engaged but felt left out because of the way he treated them. They liked the work but didn’t like being shouted out and put down. And they had plenty of ideas about how the workshop could run better as well.

Lincoln reported that the whole atmosphere in the workshop changed. They talked more with each other, shared ideas and laughed a lot more. Regular listening sessions followed and his young team liked being heard and making their workplace better.

You can learn to shut up and listen whether you are a boss, a fellow workmate, a family member or a friend. It may feel uncomfortable at first but you won’t get hurt. And even if you do feel hurt it’s possible to heal and learn from the experience.