In the next 60 seconds, we will explore ways to challenge assumptions and maintain focus while listening. 4 Steps to Power Listening – Part 2. Steps 3-4. Ready? Set. Go!

Your One-Minute Coaching™

In “Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All,” Bernard T. Ferrari suggests that four steps form the foundation of effective listening.


  • Show respect.
  • Keep quiet.
  • Challenge assumptions.
  • Maintain focus.

Our previous One-Minute Coaching™ explored how executives can show respect and keep quiet while listening. Today, we’ll explore the last two steps.

3. Challenge Assumptions

Too many top executives act like they know everything. They tend to ignore any information that suggests they should change their beliefs. Executive power listeners, on the other hand, work to identify and often challenge the assumptions that lie below the conversation’s surface. These assumptions are the greatest obstacles to effective listening.

Identifying and working through assumptions is never easy. Executives must always be ready to reconsider what they “know” and accept that their information is never totally complete. Executives need to go into most conversations with the understanding that they have something to learn, and be ready to shift their mindset at any point.

Likewise, executives need to search for the assumptions of the person they are listening to and challenge them as much as they challenge themselves.

4.  Maintain Focus

Normal conversation often involves side trips into related topics and unnecessary details. Power listeners keep the conversation on track by maintaining focus on what really matters. They help their conversation partner isolate the issue at hand and look only at what is relevant to that issue.

We suggest using the techniques of coaching conversations to ask questions that refocus the conversation when needed. This will eliminate internal noise within the conversation similar to how you would eliminate external noise for an important meeting by closing the door.

Note that emotions are involved in every conversation. Not all are bad, but many—like fatigue, frustration, resentment, fear, and even too much excitement—can get in the way of effective communication. Be alert for the presence of emotions like these and look for ways to disconnect them from the conversation. Otherwise, the focus will never be on communication but on these overwhelming emotions instead.

Coaching Questions

  • Can you think of a time when you made a poor decision based on your assumptions?
  • What question could you have asked that would have changed your decision for the better?
  • When a conversation with a direct report is getting derailed, what respectful questions can you ask to restore focus?

Practice power listening and you will become more informed, make better decisions, build valuable relationships, and come up with innovative ideas. You will find your leadership improves by leaps and bounds.

As an executive coach, I regularly help executives with their listening skills. I can help you with this key skillset or any other business skill you want to refine. Click the link to schedule the first of three complimentary sessions and see how coaching can help you grow your executive skillset to the next level.