The Backbrief: A Tool For Better Listening

Listening can feel harder to do than ever. There’s always going to be outside distractions. Emails, texts, meetings, presentations, it can seem to go on and on. It can be easy to get lost in a sea of noise. How do we become better listeners?


One tool to do so is called the backbrief. The backbrief is essentially a confirmation, a review of what was just discussed.

As a leader, it means asking questions such as, “can tell me what you think you heard?” and “could you please summarize the conversation we just had?” in order to establish clarity with those you work with on a daily basis.

If someone can repeat back what was just said and summarize it in their own words, it means the information was correctly received — and stored. If something was misunderstood, it will be quickly apparent. The advantage of dealing with a missed or misinterpreted instruction sooner rather than later is clear: imagine if a team member began to work in depth on a task based on faulty understanding of instructions. Getting the details correct early can save a lot of headaches later.

In order for everyone to become better listeners, the backbrief must be a regular part of your team’s work routine.

Here are ways to implement backbriefs into your organization’s culture, so it can begin to become a habit:

  1. It should be part of every meeting. Place it on the list of things to cover. For each task assigned to a team member, have them backbrief what was said.
  2. Make sure your entire team has been trained to backbrief, and do the follow-up yourself to check in later on to see that it is being used.
  3. When you conduct a review after every major project or event, ensure the backbrief is part of the review. Were backbriefs performed after every meeting during the course of the project? Where is there room for improvement?

Remember: better listening will lead to better results for all.

Enjoy the journey!

based on material originally published as “Confirming What You Thought You Said…Effective Listening” 1/10/2017