EAR: Can You Really Listen?

EAR: Can You Really Listen?
Summary: You are only really listening when you can accurately verbalize what you are hearing, seeing, and feeling in a holistic sequence and in a well-defined context. There are significant benefits to be gained from developing this capability. The EAR acronym makes it easy to remember and practice.


EAR is an acronym for event, action, and result. Successful eLearning programs are founded on powerful, robust, easy-to-remember, and easy-to-apply models that have been tried and tested. It is a further benefit if these models have multiple applications so that they can be used more often, in different contexts, to reinforce and extend learning. The EAR acronym/model meets these criteria.

I originally developed this acronym to teach managers and executives how to interview more effectively. It is easy to understand and easy to use. Over the past 30+ years, the value and use of the concept have been extended from developing a powerful interview questioning technique to improving conflict management, coaching, parenting, and enabling vicarious learning.

1. Selection Interviewing

The intent of this section is not to cover how to develop a comprehensive interview guide but rather to hone in on developing a questioning technique that enables the interviewer to gain the best possible information from an interviewee in order to assess a specific capability.

For the sake of an example, it is deemed that the ability to deal with and effectively manage conflict is a key requirement of the job that the candidate is being interviewed for. In order to be able to evaluate whether the interview candidate has this capability at the required level, we need to be able to examine and evaluate the candidate's experience and capability by using a robust questioning technique, informed by the EAR acronym as follows:

  • Event: Tell me about a time that you had to deal with a serious conflict situation. Describe what happened. Keep probing until you, as the interviewer, can clearly describe what was happening and how the situation came about.
  • Action: Describe the action that you took. What did you do? Again, keep probing until you, as the interviewer, can clearly describe the action that the interviewee took.
  • Result: What was the outcome? What happened as a result of the action that you took? Keep probing until you have a clear understanding of the outcome as a result of the action that the interviewee took.

Additional questions can be asked to gain further insight, such as "How did you feel about your handling of this situation?" and "Given a similar situation in the future, is there anything you would do differently?". Importantly, you have all the information you need to assess if the candidate has the required capability at the level required. For example. a junior employee relations officer should be able to give examples of handling relatively simple interpersonal conflict situations in the workplace, whereas a senior employee relations manager should be able to give examples of handling complex disputes with unions. Further, given the robust nature of the questioning, it is difficult for a candidate to fabricate an answer. And, in any case, it is most often possible to reference-check the example given.

A short but powerful video is used to demonstrate the application of EAR in the eLearning program. This makes it easy for participants to role model and practice. It also gives a "template" for a blended learning approach in terms of online discussion groups, role-plays, and peer feedback.

2. Conflict Management

The EAR model informs a concrete method to understand any conflict situation.

  • Event: What happened? What was the context in which the conflict occurred? How were the conflicted parties interpreting what was happening? What were they feeling about what was happening? Anything else that is relevant must also be understood. It is critical to be able to fully understand the event or context in which the conflict happened and to be able to verbalize it in a way that both parties feel that their perspectives have been understood, before moving on.
  • Action: Who did what? How was this action perceived? How were the conflicted parties feeling about the actions that were being taken?
  • Result: What was the outcome of the actions that were being taken?

Once practiced, it does not take a lot of time to go through the EAR sequence to fully understand and be able to verbalize what happened, and understand how and why the conflict arose. Going through this process thoroughly will save time ultimately in terms of having the necessary clear understanding of the situation, to be able to effectively bring one's conflict management/mediation skills to bear to resolve the matter.

3. Coaching

In the event that one is approached to coach someone, for example, to better handle conflict situations, it is important to establish context. A good way to start is to ask the person to tell you about a recent conflict situation in which they were involved. The EAR acronym/model ensures that accurate and complete information is gathered. This allows the coach to ask more questions in order to gain full benefit from the opportunity. Some examples are given below to show how EAR can inform a line of questioning to support constructive coaching opportunities.

  • Event: What happened? How did the conflict situation come about? What was on your mind/what were you thinking? What were you feeling about what was happening? What did you see as the challenge?
  • Action: What action did you take? What did you do? What were you thinking at the time? What was on your mind?
  • Result: What was the outcome? How did you feel about the result? What could you have done differently? Under similar circumstances in the future, what would you do? Why?

4. Parenting

Having spent much time working in the early childhood development space for the past 15 years, it has become evident that young kids learn and develop better from concrete experience/understanding. The EAR model informs a way for parents to develop a concrete context to help their children understand and learn from what could otherwise be complex abstract situations. Other than what is obvious, deeper discussion in this regard is outside the scope of this article.

5. Vicarious Learning

By developing strong observational skills based on EAR, we can (help others) develop the powerful ability to learn vicariously. This is the topic of a separate article.


It is imperative for eLearning program developers to create easy-to-understand, easy-to-use models that enable learning to transfer seamlessly to improve the ways of doing things, with opportunities to apply such models in multiple contexts to reinforce and extend learning. This article uses the EAR acronym/model as an example of how this might be applied.