Qual Street

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How to listen (remotely)

How to listen (remotely)


How to be a good listener…(remotely)

The Qual Street team have found being a ‘head on a stick’ pretty exhausting. Have you?

Remote meetings are keeping the country running, but they are also hard to bear.

One of our virtual meetings centred around ‘how can we [at Qual Street] help during lock-down?’ One way, perhaps, is to share our learnings on how to be a good listener…

Here are our thoughts

Get yourself set up to listen well…

First start with some empathetic intent. This is about deciding to tune in to what others want to say, rather than having your say…

Remind yourself of blocks to listening…

There are many, but here are three key ones…

  1. Listening at first then trailing off. When people speak, they can warm up with a preamble, building up to the point they want to make. Conversely people tend to listen most intently at the start and then get distracted or bored. It means we often miss the point of what someone is saying. So hold on until they get to the end…
  2. Rehearsing what we want to say when someone else is speaking. We can have an important point we want to make, and that dominates what is going on in our head, and we miss out what the speaker is saying
  3. Getting side-tracked. Something someone says triggers a new, interesting thought, or an emotional reaction and we tune into our response more than what they are saying

Remind yourself of these blocks and notice when they are happening. It will help you stay tuned in!

Use the RASA model to help communicate you’re listening and to help you listen well…

  • R is for receive – receive the information
  • A is for appreciate – that’s about helping the listener know they’ve been listened to… making mmn noises, indicating you hear them (“gotcha”, “right”, “uha”)
  • S is for summarise – playing back what you’ve heard, allowing the speaker to clarify or build a point
  • A is for ask… once you’ve fully listened this leads to follow up questions to build understanding and allow the person speaking to be heard fully

Julian Treasure has a great Ted Talk which is worth checking out on how to listen… check it out here

Notice what is really going on when someone is speaking

Indi Young is a UX expert. She uses a model that can help you unpick what the speaker is really communicating about:

Listen for:

  • The mental processing they are describing
  • Emotions
  • The rules or cultural norms or stories they are referencing

Noticing what ‘kind of thing’ is being communicated helps keep you ‘zen’ as a listener, rather than getting blocked. It’s abstract and difficult to do, especially if you are concentrating on the subject, but with practice you can both listen to the content and the underlying meaning.

Dump your thoughts to get back on track

At some point you are going to get distracted, by an idea; by a question you want to ask; by a strong reaction. Jot down that thought and let it go, knowing that you can come back to it later. The thought/ question will either pass, or be something you can talk about when it’s your turn…

When you’re not just talking one-to-one…

Having been talking/ listening remotely in meetings all last week, it’s obvious good listening is made so much harder when we aren’t face-to-face and in particular when having group discussions. How do you make mmn noises when you are in a meeting of 20 people? How do you know when it’s your turn to talk? How do you stay sane/ awake when the meeting goes on and on…?

Some ideas….

Make sure meetings are ‘moderated’

I would suggest that in every conference call/ on-line meeting one person is the designated moderator, and their job is to ‘make like a qualitative researcher’ and guide the room through the conversation…

The moderator’s job:

  • pre-prepare a discussion flow/ agenda with some rough timings set against it, circulate if necessary, so everyone knows where the conversation is likely to go…
  • set the boundaries and rules of the meeting: how long it’s going to last, etiquette pointers – everyone on mute apart from the moderator and the speaker, remind people to contribute – to the right degree: don’t dominate; don’t do any ‘social loafing’ either…
  • get the meeting started, warm everyone up and get everyone to say something so everyone’s voice is heard at the start… it’s the moderator’s job to put some positive energy into the room and make people feel like they are welcome and useful, and this is going to be a useful experience
  • bring in people as and when appropriate to the conversation (you might want to do turn taking so everyone’s voice is heard, you might want to let the meeting ebb and flow with different speakers). If there is a conversation moderator, it’s much easier to get a balance of speakers
  • the moderator should do RASA – it doesn’t make sense for lots of people to be umming and ahing when someone is speaking, but it does make sense for one person on the call to be doing it so the speaker feels listened to…
  • know the limits of the conversation and schedule breaks and sum-ups if it’s a long one… meetings that are not face to face should be shorter. If we’re doing a face to face qualitative interview that lasts about an hour we cut it down to 45 minutes on the phone, and that’s a good rule of thumb…75% of the time you’d use for face to face…
  • encourage people to stand up during parts of the conversation – particularly when it’s their turn to talk, as that helps with assertion
  • provide notes or minutes of the meeting afterwards and know that if the attendees have been listening well they are likely to want to reflect on what has been said and share new thinking and ideas…
  • spread meetings out, so there aren’t too many in a day…(we wouldn’t moderate more than 2 or 3 groups a day if they were long sessions, and after 4 one-to-ones (say 4+ hours) you are usually all spent when it comes to decent listening powers)

We hope that helps.

We’re probably in this for the long game, and one of the strengths we can build during lock-down is the power to listen really well.

At Qual Street we want to help in any way we can, so if you need help with listening, holding meetings or understanding behaviour, then do get in touch.

Stay safe
Kath, Ambreen and Claire from Qual Street


Kath Rhodes, Qual Street Owner

I love love learning and so I invest time and resources with Ambreen and Claire into exploring social psychology, neuro science, creativity and new techniques in research. Read all about it and help yourself to the ideas that will deliver your business the insight it needs

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