Posts Tagged ‘benefits of listening’
Cultural entropy is the amount of energy in an organisation that is consumed in unproductive work. It is a measure of the conflict, friction and frustration that exists within an organisation. Barrett Values Centre
We don’t usually link the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy, a fundamental law of physics, with Listening. That is, until we try to understand why billions of dollars are lost as a result of unproductive work.
The natural state of the world is disorder or entropy, but “entropy can only be overcome by an organizing energy from an external force…We are fighting to show a chaotic world a glimpse of that which provides the only hope for stifling her natural and powerful spiral into disorder.” J. Matthew Brunson, M.D.
That’s where listening comes in to play. It is the vital skill to stem the tide of counterproductive noise in the system.
Let’s take a very common example: selecting an item to be included in a budget.
Manager: We have some money remaining in the budget. It’s just enough to purchase the project management software we’ve wanted.
Direct Report: That would be great. I’ll talk to the vendor about costs and timing.
At that point it seems as though there’s order. But wait.
Another direct report says the money should go for additional headcount to ease burden on employees, customers lobby for price reduction, and the CFO wants to use the funds elsewhere.
Disorder. There’s no decision, players are frustrated, time has been wasted, and the issue has gotten complex.
Heeding Dr. Brunson’s advice, listening would have supplied sufficient energy to overcome the chaos that arose. The interaction devolved into a Ping-Pong match without any attempt to learn from one another to create shared meaning, the very essence of communication.
Similar scenarios occur constantly throughout a business day, pushing an organization towards chaos instead of pulling it towards sensible order. Following are three pointers to control entropy:
1. Listen to your stakeholders. Look beyond analytics and talk to real people to get at what’s behind the numbers. If you observe demoralized people, don’t hide in your office or ask their manager what’s wrong, talk to the people with the problems. If you’re losing customers, don’t send a survey, go and spend time with them. If the players in the budget item case would have asked some good questions and checked the answers, an informed decision could have been reached efficiently without wasting time and eroding trust in one another.
2. Teach your employees how to listen. Listening is a means, not an end, but it still requires skill to do it well so the process of listening is transparent and the emphasis is on content. The Golden Rule we’ve so often been taught, “Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You,” isn’t applicable for listening. Instead, it is “Listen to Others as They Want to Be Heard.”
3. Listen for and monitor the level of organizational entropy. Redundancies, employee and customer turnover, re-dos, too many/too few people copied on memos, active rumor mill, and pipeline inconsistency, are all indicators of disorder that’s already entrenched and doing great harm. One role of a leader is to observe the horizon for signs of emerging entropy, and act swiftly to gain control.
Good listening is an energy-saver and a productivity enabler.
The end of the year often brings with it a request for our thoughts about the year that is waning, and predictions for what’s on the horizon.
This blog is about Listening, and that’s what I choose to reflect on and share with you:
- There’s more and more awareness that listening is a learned skill and art.
- Technology is not the enemy of listening, but it is its challenger.
- The global nature of business expects people to speak and listen with a high degree of mutual understanding, regardless of language or location.
- Neuroscience is providing us with information about the brain that was unknown to us until recently.
- The catchword of listening is flexibility or agility—one size does not fit all and we have to learn how to adapt to the listening styles and needs of others.
- The term “Active Listening” is fortunately fading into the past from whence it came. There is no formula for good listening as suggested in that term.
- Context definitely influences the way we listen and what we listen to/for.
- Other strong influences—life experiences, education, language patterns, family dynamics, introversion/extraversion—in other words, everything.
I’m so delighted that people read the blog posts, that more people ask to be contributors, that more than 500 people have taken Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio®, and that the conversation grows.
What are your Reflections on the state of Listening as well as thoughts about what we’ll see next?
It’s no surprise that engaged leaders are the linchpin to success of any change effort. What may be surprising is how often leaders miss the mark due to listening and communication gaps. In fact, a study by LeadershipIQ.com revealed that the number one reason CEOs are fired is due to mismanaging change. Specifically, findings showed “a failure on the CEO’s part to properly motivate employees and managers, and more specifically, to adequately sell the need to change course.”
True sponsorship goes well beyond participating at steering committees and funding approvals to include active, visible listening and leadership. What does this look like? It’s a series of micro decisions all day long to be accountable for change through listening and communicating. How do you know if you are doing it right? When your sponsor role becomes less about meetings and funding and more about conversations with people at all levels in your organization. You will know you hit the listening sweet spot when you begin to get really tough questions, from all levels in your organization.
These micro decisions add up quickly; either to engagement or missed opportunity. I encourage you to reflect on the following micro decisions:
- Do I make myself accessible to listen to my teams or is my calendar booked solid?
- Do I regularly ask my teams, key partners and stakeholders, “How can I support you?”
- Do I talk with key business leaders and stakeholders about how the change connects to strategy?
- Do I really take time to listen to stakeholders’ needs and concerns? Do I carve out time to then relay and discuss this information with my team on a timely basis?
- Do I take time to share my goals for the change and my personal expectations?
- Do I have a consistent message that I repeat often?
- Do I take time to use storytelling to inspire others?
When you stack these micro decisions to listen together, they become a series of decisions in a week, a month, a year. They are a force multiplier to successful change.
Take time to reflect on how you can raise your sponsorship game to the next level. Don’t think you have the time to commit to more listening and support? Perhaps the day you are too busy to listen is a day you are simply too busy.
Francie Van Wirkus is a motivational speaker, author of The Competitor in Me series, and coach. She also works with high-level leadership in the insurance and financial services industry on the most challenging issues facing success today. She can be contacted via her Web site link above.
I was visiting my wonderful brother in the hospital, and his longtime internist, Dr. Stephen Shore, came to visit. Now, if that wasn’t amazing in itself, we got into a conversation about interpersonal skills among health care professionals.
Dr. Shore is known for his incredible patient care, and had a lot to say about both the power and failings of interpersonal communication in the world of healthcare. Following are some of his salient points:
- Body positioning:
The doctor asked my brother’s nurse where she places herself when attending a patient. She said it depends upon what she’s in the room to do, but she tries to make eye contact when interacting. She said if she has news to convey or gather, she sits so she is on the same eye level as the patient. If she has to do any procedure or deal with equipment, she tells the patient what’s she’s doing so the patient knows what’s going on. I noticed that’s what she did when caring for my brother—she was attentive and professional.
Dr. Shore applauded that behavior and said it’s inexcusable to stand over a patient. “It’s an unnecessary display of power.” If the patient is on a table, Dr. Shore pulls up a chair to be on the same plane. If a patient is upset, he listens, then pulls the chair forward a bit to make the interaction more personal, “Not much because I don’t want to invade the patient’s space, but I want to be close enough that I can pat a hand if that would help.”
“A doctor can show authority by knowing your stuff and showing compassion—that’s all the authority needed.”
- Speaking in code:
“The field of medicine is complex enough without having to use terms that patients don’t understand. Speak in plain language. I guess the real issue is too many healthcare workers want to separate themselves from the patients. They see the patient as a body to cure, rather than as a multi-dimensional person who’s a partner in the battle for good health.”
Then he paused to say that many patients these days seem to know as much as the physicians because they do extensive Internet research. “Misinformed patients who are sure they understand their problems and know how to treat them, require time to be properly educated.” What he said reminded me of kids who think they need every toy advertised on TV.
- Diagnosis without even seeing the patient:
“I’ve often seen a group of doctors, residents, and interns standing outside a patient’s room. They all have computers and they pour over the patient’s records on them. The docs talk about the data, compare this situation to what they’ve seen or studied, and make a diagnosis. They enter that info into their computers, hand it off to an RN or PA, and then move on to the next room.
Dr. Shore was appalled at the procedure. “That poor patient is separated from his own medical care, doesn’t know what’s happening, and often becomes more ill because of fear and isolation. We all know part of healing comes from touch and interaction. In that situation only the clinical part of medicine is being practiced.”
I asked if there’s an answer to the dilemma given the demands on the healthcare industry. He said that would take another visiting time to answer, but one idea is to force healthcare workers to practice interpersonal skills during their schooling. “They should be taught about body language, eye contact, tone, cultural influences, how to ask questions, and listening. The stuff you do is as important to my practice as my knowledge of medicine.”
Know anyone at a medical/nursing/PA school who’d invite us in to work with their students?
We saw a movie, “Not that Funny,” at the Denver Film Festival and I wish I could send you a clip about listening. Essentially, the protagonist wins the “girl,” not by what he thought would win her, his ability to make her laugh, but by his ability to listen. He even goes to a stand up comic, hoping to learn how to be funny for this woman. The comic gives him hints, but then, after spending time with the protagonist, says, “Man, you listen. No one in my life has ever listened to me like that. You really have the math right—one mouth and two ears.”
How often have you been gifted with a person who listens to you with full attention and appreciation? If the skill of deep listening is so revered and desired, how come being a good listener is not the norm, rather than a rare gift?
I can’t tell you how often people who have taken our webinars/workshop or have been coached by a certified practitioner, make it a point to say how much they’ve changed as a result. They tell us they’re more conscious about how they and others listen, what true listening looks like, and how to adapt their listening style to the way others listen.
That’s the best news for any skill development, that people absorb the learning and apply it to their relationships with others. Remember, the guy got the girl because he listened.
Join our campaign to make deep listening the norm.
I think I’ve read every issue of Fast Company since it’s inception and there’s always something of value in their forward thinking pages. In the November 2012 issue (#170) there’s an article, Secrets of the Flux Leader by Robert Safian that reinforces my writing and thinking about fluency in communication (read the full article here).
Safian says (p. 98),
Generation Flux is a term I coined several months ago, in a Fast Company cover story that explained how the dizzying velocity of change in our economy has made chaos the defining feature of modern business.
Generation Flux describes the people who will thrive best in this environment. It is a psychographic, not a demographic—you can be any age and be GenFlux. Their characteristics are clear; an embrace of adaptability and flexibility; an openness to learning from anywhere; decisiveness tempered by the knowledge that business life today can shift radically every three months or so.
He goes on to say that many assumptions previously held in business will no longer work. One of those assumptions is that hierarchies provide desirable stability. “Creation comes not from stasis but from unpredictable movement.” I’ve argued for years that creativity thrives under structure and withers under control, which means the right kind of hierarchy can grease the skids for innovators. Structure that helps the creative know who’s up, down and sideways can provide the resources and support necessary to get ideas executed; whereas control sucks the life out of good ideas and once-creative people.
That’s where communication fluency comes into the picture. The old top-down, “I tell, you listen” model is irrelevant. What is effective is collaborative inquiry. “Here’s the problem, what are your ideas, what do you know, what am I not seeing, how might we look at the situation, who else can provide expertise…” GenFlux communicators have those conversations with peers, reports, bosses, vendors, customers—they’re constantly scanning the horizon for what’s dawning and who in their network to listen to.
Our focus at Listening Impact is for listeners to be able to flex to different people and to different situations. We help people understand what they listen to/for, what they ignore, who they are most likely to listen to, how their body language gives them away, and what types of questions they both ask and respond to. We don’t try to say if someone is a bad or good listener, instead we help them understand how to listen deeply and broadly, to listen with the fluency of someone who can speak all listening languages—no matter where they are, who’s talking, or where expertise lies.
Further in the article (p 102) Safian John Landgraf, president and GM of FX Networks. “You can’t have people siloed in their particular areas of strength. You have to value all styles, because you will never know which type will solve a problem.” That’s being a GenFlux listener.
There were some lovely gems from the cadre of leaders that are worthwhile to share. The responses didn’t fit into any of the three questions asked, but they add insight from the people who took a few minutes to be with us.
Before we get to those gems, following are some answers to queries about the group’s average age, gender, geography, kind of jobs, how I know these folks.
- While I don’t know everyone’s age, I’d say the range is early 40’s to mid 60’s and the average somewhere in the 50’s.
- Seven males and four females.
- European and North American by current location, although most of the group has worked or resided in every continent (well, not sure about Antarctica) during the span of their career.
- Their current job titles are listed with their names, but I’d venture to say there’s hardly an organizational job that hasn’t been held within the group.
- I know each person well enough through coaching, collaboration or referrals, to be confident that these are the right leaders to interview about personal development.
- Oh, and I like myself better too.
- The more I work on myself the more positive the atmosphere around me.
- I went on a retreat, no phones, computers, music—you get it, no technology. I nearly bailed, but I’m so glad I stuck it out. For the first time in my adult life I looked inward, didn’t necessarily like the future I saw, and resolved to be a much more compassionate person and conscious, caring leader.
- Listening to other’s views whether they are colleagues, customers or family members is often missed.
- This work opens up new doors—everywhere.
- When I retired (the first time), I heard over and over, “You are the best boss I ever had.” I know that’s true because when I moved from job-to-job some people came with me and others asked if they could.
- My job security comes from the success of others.
- Every time I’m in a new role I have to do more to adjust my style to others than to expect them to adjust to me.
- My son, just one year out of college, is in a management program and they’re starting him on this journey. He’s so fortunate.
- I never thought that awakening could happen in the workplace—it has.
- For twenty-five years I’d say I was committed to the job. I still am, but this year, 2012, the focus is on me.
- Everyone should live and work in another country some time in their careers. I can’t even begin to tell you all the things I learned, but a big one is that my job was to translate centralized organizational decisions to the local customs. Some goals from corporate cannot/should not be applied locally. Try to sell that upstream—that takes skilled leadership!
- Don’t turn away from the gifts that are presented to you.
In the first of this three-part post, eleven senior leaders responded to the query: What prompted you to engage in a personal development journey? Following are their responses to the second question:
What did you learn about yourself?
Knowing what leadership is
- Being a good leader is one thing, being a very good leader is another and a real challenge. A great deal of guidance and learning is in finding out about oneself. How we interact with others, how we motivate, how we demotivate others. Getting the very best out of others in not an easy task.
- You can’t teach someone to have an innate sense about how to build the business.
- I’m constantly reminded that I must be a good role model and it’s not always easy to walk the talk.
- Roles change. I’m no longer a full time parent, so I have to change some practices that will take me and my kids to a new level of relationship. Same for work—there’s always new levels of challenges facing you.
- I worked in Ireland when it was a war zone and I had to learn to deal with the political scene as well as learn how to be a manager and not just rely on my native skills.
- The more difficult the circumstances are, the faster you have to turn the situation around or it festers until it’s too hot to handle.
- Sometimes sales people ask a question they want answered, and are befuddled when they don’t get it. That’s their job, mine is to see the questions before they arise.
- Know the business from the nuts and bolts—ground up, not at 40,000 feet view.
- I like what Kevin Share, ex-CEO of Amgen said
Be self-aware ~ Focus on a few challenges ~ Find a mentor/coach
- Success depends on others.
- Everything that I do is about relationships with others, so now I search for anything that gives me insight.
- I came to grasp that I wasn’t the only one with great ideas, but I knew enough details to evaluate the ideas—that turns out to be one of my most valuable assets, but I had to let go of a lot to get there.
- Until recently I thought knowledge was wisdom and my emotional side had to be locked up. I became aware that allowing my emotional side to awaken would make me a more effective leader.
- The changes I want in myself and in the organization are not happening quickly enough and sometimes I have to stifle my tendencies to force the process along.
- Multi-tasking is a trap.
- I have to always be conscious of what I’m doing.
- First it’s awareness, then I need to think about it, and finally address it—whatever “it” is.
- I spend about six (6) hours a day on calls with no opportunity to read body language and no face-to-face interactions; thus, I’ve learned how important it is to understand biases and to listen more fully.
- I can be flexible, but I need advance notice—now I verbalize expectations and ask others to do that as well.
- When things went wrong I wasn’t using more questions than answers. I developed a Little xxxx (mini-me) in my head who said, “You’re not asking enough questions, and the right ones.”
- A coach helps fill in the blanks to get there faster.
- I went from telling to selling, and selling to inquiring—what a difference that made in my leadership.
Following are the names and titles of the executives who shared their insights:
- David Carder, VP, Executive Consultant, The Forum Corporation
- Ralph Chauvin, Vice President of Sales, North America, Perfetti van Melle USA
- Iain Duffin, Chairman Origo Service Group Edinburgh, Non Executive Director of the Scottish Leather Group, Director of IDD Associates Ltd.
- Carol Ryan Ertz, AVP, Enterprise Leadership Development, Unum Corporation
- Ron Griffiths, CEO Network Green Deal Ltd and RG Direct Associates Ltd.
- Larry Hart, Chair, Vistage International
- Jim Mikula, Managing Director, Hotel Madeline and Inn at Lost Creek, Telluride
- Susan Moseley, VP Member Service Corporation, NFIB
- Vivien Price, VP Solutions Design, The Forum Corporation
- Helaine Suval, President and Founder, Suval Consultants
- Frank van Dijk, Regional Marketing Leader, GE Oil & Gas
When we are exposed to any learning situation, it’s challenging to hold onto the new information and skills. One sure way to sustain the gains is to use every listening encounter as an opportunity to practice. Learning, like any other brain activity, is seeded when we consciously pay attention or truly listen.
Following are some tips about how to sustain what you learn:
Logic behind learning: why’s help retain how’s—Listen to figure out the purpose of what you learned and how the learning will fit into what you already know or take you into an entirely new realm of knowledge. Memorizing isn’t listening; listening goes to deep understanding.
Practice pulls theory; theory pulls practice—Putting theory to work makes it real and the more you practice what you’ve learned the more it becomes an integral part of your repertoire.
Interest in topic—I often say that “boring” is in the ears of the listener. What may not be of high interest to you might be fascinating to someone else, so try to listen for aspects that stimulate your interest and connect to what you’ve recently learned.
Novelty—Listening for new information or knowledge keeps our brains supple. If you can leave an interaction by saying, “Wow, I never thought of that,” you’ve proved yourself to have an open mind, a key component of a master listener.
Multiple settings—Listening occurs everywhere. When you learn to listen better at work, you can also listen better at home or in a social setting. Listen to identify how your newly acquired learning relates to the settings in which you find yourself.
Community—Listening is a group activity. Groups are comprised of individuals who require you to listen differently and purposefully to each person. Allow the community to test your new learning as well as to build upon it.
Skill development—The more you practice listening, the more likely you will hear more and be able to apply what you learn. Use your learning as a platform to acquire more skills.
Continual exposure—When you learn something new, pay attention to where else that new learning might occur. Listen to people talking about the subject matter, especially if they’re more knowledgeable than you.
No multitasking–we humans are only capable of “serial attention.” When mental attentiveness is required, we are actually “singletaskers,” not multitaskers, and there is no changing the way our brains are fundamentally structured. Discipline your mind to focus, focus, focus on the learning.
I tend to think the word learning connotes the integration of knowledge into your overall schema. Listening brings in the knowledge and if you consciously practice the learning at every opportunity, you’ll sustain the growth.
Last week we took a look at Patrick Lencioni’s brilliant book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, that is used widely to help teams diagnose their ailments, as well as how to get them team-healthy. I offered some examples of the first three dysfunctions and how at the core of many of the dysfunctions, is the lack of listening – a set of habits formed in the brain, body and emotions that we come to rely on at such a subconscious level that we aren’t aware of what we listen to/for and what we ignore.
Let’s look at last two of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions to analyze the role of listening in each.
Avoid Accountability: Low standards
Recently in a coaching session, my coachee, the team leader talked about being over-burdened because people on her team weren’t pulling their weight. I think she expected me to commiserate with her and say how challenging for her. Instead, I asked who was responsible for that sub-standard behavior, and when she pointed her finger at them, I turned it around and asked, “What if you’re the culprit?”
Our session was terrific once she caught on that it was she who accepted the lowest standard of performance as the norm. Case in point. One of the team members often missed deadlines. Prior to our work together, the team leader would fume and fuss, and do some of the work herself; but, in the end, she allowed the mediocre performance to perpetuate itself and spread like the disease it was.
Here’s a practice demonstration of how we changed the team dynamic:
Team Leader: Today is the report deadline, do you have it?
Employee: I have some of it, but not all. There were more parts to the assignment than I thought.
Team Leader: Here you go again. This is the last straw. I don’t know what to do when you do this over and over. Give it to me.
And so goes the established and poor pattern. Let’s look at a replay, done better.
Team Leader: The calendar shows today the report is due today. (observation) In what format can it be retrieved? (expectation and question)
Employee: Ah, I don’t quite have it finished.
Team Leader: The lateness of the report puts undo burden on others who depend upon it to complete their part of the process. (impact) How will you rectify the situation? (inquiry)
Employee: I’m not sure. It’s almost done. How about I show it to you and maybe you can help me complete it in time.
Team Leader: Part of your job responsibility is to write this report. It’s not helping you, your colleagues, the department’s reputation, or my faith in your ability if I step in to save you. (observation) Now let’s turn our attention to addressing the issue at hand and how you will complete the report. (next steps). What ideas do you have? (inquiry)
When the Team Leader listens and bounces back with an inquiry, the onus is on the Employee to figure out how to be accountable. Scolding is parent-to-child and accomplishes nothing other than dependency and rebellion, neither if which belong in a work environment.
Inattention to Results: Status and Ego
It’s not unusual to find people with good ideas in a team, but when they are not heard, those people leave, or worse, stagnate. Just think, if you see ways to achieve results and they fall on deaf ears, you’ll soon lose interest, become self-centered, and might even become a saboteur.
It is possible to change all five dysfunctions if teams are given high-performance tools to boost skills and time to practice with one another and a coach.
I’m reminded about my first coaching request when I was a facilitator of a leadership program at General Motors, at least a hundred years ago. The man responsible for the training casually mentioned to me one day, “You seem to be good with people. There’s a team of executives that is a mess. Maybe you can help them. Don’t worry if you can’t, they can’t get worse.” What an invitation.
We worked together for a few months, and indeed they did improve. If I look back now at what I did, without having any coaching education, it’s clear that I listened, observed, and reflected. To this day when I watch a team in action, I say, “Here’s what I observed, is that how you want to perform?” Then we go to work.