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Huge change is on the horizon for the Canadian wine industry. In response to the recent coverage about the World Trade Organization decision which will result in more severe legislative and taxation regimes for the Canadian wine industry, this is the third installment in our three-part series on strategies wineries can implement now to strengthen their teams and equip themselves as best they can to face these major changes.

Trust for Productive Conflict

In the first article in the series we talked about the importance of building trust among your team, practical ways to increase trust and why trust is the necessary foundation for anything else you want to achieve as a team. In the second article we explored the idea of conflict as a competitive advantage, as counter-intuitive as that may sound! The key is operating within an environment of trust so all team members feel safe expressing their viewpoints even if those opinions, ideas, reactions are slightly different or totally at odds with those of the boss or other colleagues. The results of productive conflict include higher quality solutions, broader buy-in, and a greater sense of employee engagement.

The Art of Listening

The third element of strengthening a team is listening. We have plenty of opportunities to work on our communication skills. We’re taught how to speak with confidence to convince and persuade, but it’s much rarer to find a seminar or workshop to help hone listening skills. Yet, as leaders and also in sales, the art of listening is chief among all the skills you’ll use at work! Leaders can’t lead effectively without hearing the ideas and feedback of those who follow them and tasting room ambassadors or hospitality hosts can’t connect customers with the products or services they need (ie sell to them!) if they’re not listening to those customers to really understand what they’re looking for!

The Five Levels of Listening

I recently had the chance to connect with the globally acclaimed Australian listening guru, Oscar Trimboli. He references five levels of listening (yes! FIVE!). For an excellent, detailed report of your own listening style (including your dreaded listening villains), visit Oscar Trimboli’s site and try his quiz. You’ll also find his first-rate podcasts on each of the five levels of listening.

Below are some practical tips for both team leaders and front-line hospitality ambassadors to engage successfully in each of those five levels of listening:

Listening Level

For Leaders and Customer Service Professionals

Level 1 – Listening to Yourself Are you present? Are you focusing on the person you are speaking with? Take a moment to check in with yourself, see what’s going on with you. Are you preoccupied with a conversation you had before getting to work? Are you carrying emotional burdens of a personal issue you’re working through? By consciously removing distractions, you can be more truly present. Put away your phone, make a reminder note to help get rid of a nagging task that you may be thinking about, push pause on distracting thoughts and get centered in the moment.
Level 2 – Listening to the Content What exactly is the speaker saying? Can you see the connection between their message and how they’re delivering it? Deep listening is hard work and it takes intentional effort. To successfully listen for content, leaders and tasting room pros need to consciously remove distractions (phones are a big one!). Don’t be surprised if after practicing deeper listening you feel more tired than usual after work – deep listening requires a lot more brainpower! We know when someone is really listening (and we also know when they’re not!). When your customers or employees feel heard, you’ll establish a stronger rapport with them which will help you build the trust you need in order to work successfully with them.
Level 3 – Listening to the Context Consider the situation and its circumstances while you listen to the words at this level. Are there different ways to interpret what is being said and how it’s being said? Is the speaker using a language that’s not their first language? What is the power dynamic? For leaders, you may hear one message from an employee in a group setting and quite a different version if you’re connecting with that same employee one-on-one. With your customers, listen for word patterns, clues that shed light on their background and perhaps underlying motivators.
Level 4 – Listening to the Unsaid In this level, we look for those non-verbal cues that give an indication of what the other person is really thinking. Is there a disconnect between the verbal and the non-verbal messages they’re sending? Do your employees say “yes! Great idea!” or even “No, it’s fine.” with their words and express exactly the opposite through their body language and facial expression? What about your tasting room customers? Read their body language, tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions to listen to what they really think. If you can listen for the unsaid, you’ll be well on your way to decidedly more authentic exchanges.
Level 5 – Listening for Meaning This is the deepest (and also the highest) level of listening and understanding. At level 5, we’re listening for the broader meaning of the discussion, beyond what is actually being said. If we’re effectively listening for meaning, we can understand the deeper motivators or concerns of the speaker and even the deeper meaning of the entire conversation. This understanding will help you get to the heart of that really matters to your employees and customers. What deep needs are your customers seeking to meet? What really matters to your employees, at the deepest level?


Deep and effective listening is hard work but the risks of not listening are grave and can include:

  • Missed sales opportunities
  • Lower employee engagement
  • Lower performance levels
  • Higher turnover
  • Wasted time and money due to conflict and misunderstanding
  • Failure to nip issues in the bud resulting in major problems to resolve

If you think listening may be at the root of issues your team is currently facing, let’s talk. By working on improving listening skills you’ll see a significant improvement in your team dynamic, engagement and retention, a stronger culture, and better-quality customer service! All of those are so valuable in times of adversity and in good times alike and they’ll set you up to be head and shoulders above your competition!