Workplace Rights

Weekly (2/24/14)

Topic of the Week  Unstoppable: Learning What People Really Want

  • DO listen for hesitation in colleagues' voices.
  • DO give people an out.
  • DO pay close attention to body language.
  • DON'T make assumptions.

One of the toughest things for a boss at work is to tell when an employee is really agreeing with them or just telling "the boss" what they want to hear. Or when a customer says all the right things, but never decides to buy what you're selling. We all need to have a better BS detector to learn what people are really saying at work.

Which reminds me of when a transit driver in New Zealand was hospitalized after his idling bus slipped out of gear and ran over him as he walked around the front of the bus. Lucky for him, it all happened right in front of Waikato Hospital, so he didn't have to travel far for medical treatment.

Just like that bus driver, we all can get run over when we don't pay attention to the subtle clues that people give us at work. This can be a lot of work to do, but when done well it can save a lot of pain later on. That's why I've included three Do's and one Don't for reading people more effectively at work. For more, check out "Mayday" by M. Nora Klaver (Berret Koehler, 2007).

DO listen for hesitation in their voice. There is a big difference between "YES!" and "Yea." Or "Whatever." Most of us are so focused on what we want someone to say that we don't pay nearly enough attention to how they say it. Huge mistake. You need to listen to both the words and the inflection to really learn where people are coming from. Hesitation is subtle, so you're really going to have to pay close attention to pick up on it.

DO give them an out. Okay, I've been accused of being a glass half full kind of buy. Enough so that I can do more selling than sounding out where someone is coming from. Avoid the tendency to pressure people by always trying to give them an out. "Are you sure?" "Would you like to sleep on it?" All the salespeople reading this are probably having a coronary, but it's better to lose a sale earlier than later.

DO watch their body language. Have you ever had someone totally contradict what they were saying with their body language? Recently I had this happen with someone I was talking to. They literally were saying "Yes" as they were shaking their head "No." Unfortunately it's not always this easy, but do pay attention for disconnects between language and body language.

DON'T make assumptions. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was constantly filling in the blanks for you? Mostly with the wrong answers? It's important to bring a leather strap so you can keep your mouth shut and wait for the person to actually tell you what they're thinking. Sometimes painful, but always necessary.

Follow these tips and you won't get run over at work, you'll understand exactly what people are saying and you'll all be able to get safely where you need to go.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

Thought of the Week

"A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble."


Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

    from Workplace Options

    Generational Training Gaps: Young and Old Learn Differently  

    • 75 % said workplace trainings would be more valuable if they were available remotely through hand-held mobile devices
    • 40 percent of respondents age 30 to 45
    • Only 26 percent age 46 to 65 reflected this view.


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