Posts Tagged ‘diagnosing listening situation’
Marty was pumped. He made his first sales call to a potential customer and it went really well. The customer signaled real interest during the interaction, and even walked Marty to the door at the conclusion of the meeting.
Marty went back to the office and related all the good news, “I’m pretty sure we’re going to get that account.” Marty’s boss asked for evidence, and Marty said the customer was extremely attentive and forth coming.
Marty called the customer daily to no avail, and after two weeks concluded there would be no sale. Marty went to the boss to talk about what might have happened. The boss said, “You were given the ‘You might think I’m listening, but I’m not,’ treatment.”
“What’s that and how do I handle it?”
The boss told Marty that people will sometimes pretend to listen to get you out the door fast. Those people learned all the tricks to make it seem as though they’re paying attention when, instead, they’re feeding you with what you want to make it seem as though they’re engaged.
Marty pleaded to know some of those tricks:
- Look at the person. It’s a misperception that looking someone in the eye signals engagement, whereas, often it’s just watching a soliloquy.
- Nod in agreement, smile, lean forward. People often want affirmation, so the customer uses body language to make it seem as though the speaker is on track.
- Respond to questions. It’s not unusual to see people working hard to draw in the customer. They barrage the person with questions. To get rid of the interviewer, the customer answers as quickly and superficially as possible.
- Escort the “guest” out the door. When the host is finished and no longer interested, the most efficient way to get rid of the listener is to be polite, be the gracious host, shake hands, and thank the listener for stopping by.
The boss went on to explain that by using those techniques the customer can decide quickly if there’s reason to pursue the conversation, or to get it over with. In Marty’s interaction with the customer he was treated graciously and the entire interaction was fast without taking up much of anyone’s time. Besides, Marty left feeling good.
Marty was most anxious for the antidote:
- Inquire, inquire and inquire some more. Inquiry is different from asking questions; it’s being curious enough to want to know all about the other person, the business, challenges, and direction.
- Follow an inquiry with a clarifying question. Channel the big responses into ever-tightening detailed information that provides insight into the organization.
- Take notes. Ask permission. You might email your notes to the customer afterwards to test for accuracy. That shows interest and extends the conversation.
- Use your body language. Be natural, not calculating, and be in the space the same way as the customer. The idea is to make the customer comfortable with you because your body language is compatible.
What hints do you have for Marty?
Do you ever dread it when The Rambler comes in and says, “Do you have a minute?” knowing full well that there is no such thing as a minute-long interaction with that person?
What to do?
- Reach for the phone and say, “Sorry, I’m just about to get on a call.”
- Sit down, sigh and say, “Sure, but only a minute.”
- Face the person, square your body, hold up your watch and say in an uninviting tone, “What is it?”
The Rambler might be a listening time-sink, but s/he might also be full of nuggets waiting to be mined. The challenge is how to get them to the surface in the least amount of time, but without losing their value or demotivating the speaker.
Who is The Rambler? They are often creative thinkers who formulate ideas easily and fast, and one idea begets another. It’s difficult for them to stay focused, and as difficult for the listener to follow along. The Rambler might also lack confidence and thus, offers up options rather than asserting one or two. Another possibility is s/he wants to please the listener and does so by reading the listener to determine what s/he responds to and continuously builds upon the positive reinforcement.
If you as the listener understand The Rambler, then it’s easier to find ways to mitigate against the habit (like most aspects of communication, it is a habit that can be changed).
I can use myself as a rambling example. John Humphrey, one of the founders of The Forum Corporation was a wonderful habit-changer for me. After a few times of going to him with ideas, ideas, ideas, he gently (very important) said something like, “Marian, I so value your creativity and wealth of ideas. I need you to help me identify those that are most likely to do what we need. I don’t have the time or willingness to hear you think out loud. Next time, please come to me with three clear ideas.”
That was many decades ago, and one of life’s grand lessons. I learned to put ideas on paper, schedule brainstorming sessions, establish criteria, ask questions about the real problem, and probably many more—all from that one interaction with someone I respected and trusted.
How do you channel the energy of The Rambler to mine the essence of what’s being presented?
A new client told me listening has always been a challenge for him because “There’s more firing in my head than my ears can handle.” I loved the expression, even though it was a lame excuse. He had some deeply entrenched habits that contributed to his reputation as a “lousy listener.”
At his suggestion I shadowed him for two days to understand how he interacted with people, and he took Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio® to learn how he listened. As I watched him in meetings (group and 1-to-1), I didn’t actually know what he heard, but he presented himself as non-involved. He sat expressionless, pushed back from the table, asked only pointed questions, offered no ideas or feedback, interrupted with non-sequiturs, and sneaked looks at his iPhone.
Afterwards, I shared my observations and asked about the impact of those behaviors on others. He’s smart and quickly grasped that his actions were creating the opposite effect of what he wanted to project. What he wanted to project we named, Executive Presence (EP), and what he sometimes projected we named Executive Absence (EA). They became our standards and measures, as well as a language that quickly cut to the chase: e.g. “Was that an EP or EA?”
We crafted the critical few Executive Presence attributes as a guide to model. They are:
- Genuine: Sometimes called “walk-the-talk” it is the intention to live in truthfulness and not pretend or cover up.
- Clear: It is following the KISS principle to make all communication understandable—no jargon, code or spin.
- Present: Inquire, listen, process, use body language, facial expressions and tone-of-voice to demonstrate complete attention.
- Confidence and courage: Willing to take innovation risks that others are excited to join.
- Optimism and passion—not necessarily wildly outgoing, but deeply committed.
- Likes colleagues. Sees people in a positive light and treats everyone with respect.
- Laughs at own mistakes and willing to be vulnerable—no blame and shame.
He made a scorecard with the seven attributes and rated himself after various interactions. My job was to help him build skills in the weak areas and solidify the strengths. He was optimistic and passionate (5), confident and courageous (4), and laughed easily at himself (7). We unpacked what he did to make sure he consciously replicated those behaviors rather than relying on his subconscious to perform them well.
For the more challenging attributes, I showed him techniques and tools that aligned his Executive Presence to what he modeled. For example, he stopped taking his iPhone into meetings, pulled up to the table, asked probing questions that required preparation on his part and thought on the part of the responder, and made facial expressions that matched his internal processing.
We’re still working together and he’s making fabulous progress. He and I are even talking about conducting an Executive Presence workshop that would include his scorecard.
Do you have a list of Executive Presence attributes that you’d add?
Jonathan, the senior VP of Sales, and Francesca, the senior VP of Marketing, have had a contentious relationship for the year Jonathan has been in his job. At first their peers thought it was a matter of getting clear about roles, responsibilities and territory, and that it would smooth over, especially since working with Francesca was never a problem.
Yesterday at an Executive Committee meeting, Francesca presented three ideas for a new marketing campaign and asked the EC for feedback. Jonathan swiveled in his chair and said, “There’s nothing new here. We did almost the exact same things at my last company without success. Why didn’t you come to me beforehand? I could have saved you a lot of time and effort.”
Everyone in the room was stunned. The CEO pulled himself together and said, “Jonathan, let’s hear Francesca out, then we can discuss the ideas. Your response seems hasty.”
Unfortunately, interactions like those happen much too often in the workplace. Of course, there’s more than one explanation for what happened, but a big one is that Experience gets in the way of Listening. Because Jonathan sees himself as an expert, he reverts to what he knows and closes off new information that doesn’t match with anything in his past that has brought success.
- New information is perceived to be a threat to what has been tried and made true
- Prior experience has been repeated enough to be trusted
- It takes time and effort to assimilate new information
- Success speaks for itself; there’s no need to start again from the beginning
- Reputation is built upon replicating winners
What advice do you have for the people in this case?
I certainly did not invent the following formula for attentive listening, and I don’t know where to give credit either. Regardless, it’s a very nice four-step process to remember:
Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask
It works as a general rule of thumb. The twist though is when you throw listening habits into the mix. Each of the four habits will respond differently to a step in the process.
For example an Inner-personal listener will receive information if it has personal value and ignore other kinds of information, let’s say that which would be of interest to a Problem-solving listener. While the Inner-personal listener might be very well-intended, but unaware of his listening habits, he’d gloss over the facts and details that would appeal to a Problem-solving listener. Furthermore, he probably wouldn’t be aware that had occurred. The outcome: limited reception.
A listener must learn to Appreciate that there are different listening habits and preferences before she can accept the variety in styles. If we continue with two different listeners from above, the Problem-solving listener will appreciate it if the Inner-personal listener picks up on all the details in the interaction because that would mean they are on the same wave-length (or have synchronized mirror neurons). However, when that doesn’t happen, the outcome is antipathy rather than appreciation.
I’m sure you’re getting the drift: Listening is not formulaic; it is a highly individualized activity that requires awareness, knowledge, and intent. While it’s very good to have a process like Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask in your head as you interact with others, you must also remember to tailor each step to the styles of others.
~ Become a Better Listener ~
Take the Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio® Assessment NOW!
We recently conducted a workshop for sales reps and when we showed them the results from Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio®, they were both shocked and enlightened. Their individual and group reports revealed them to be more interested in hearing themselves than listening to their customers.
Their comments ranged from: “Are you sure you tabulated these results correctly?” To: “Holy smokes, no wonder we don’t have such great relationships with our customers.”
The following day we showed the group report to their managers, without divulging anyone’s individual results, and there was a lot of head nodding. The managers, rather smugly said things such as, “I tell them over and over to listen to their customers, but they’re in too much of a hurry.” Or “Maybe that’s why they struggle every month to make their numbers.”
It would have been very easy to let it go at that, but we knew the managers were part of the problem. They had taken Hear! Hear? as well. We asked what they expected their results to look like. “Just the opposite of our reps. Our Extra-personal listening will be much stronger. We listen to others.”
That’s not what their results indicated. They were equally Inner-personal focused-listeners who cared more about their own interests than their customers, in this case the reps, not external customers. While there’s nothing the matter with being an Inner-personal listener, especially for technical people who have to connect new information to what they already know, that modality was not most fitting for those sales folks. The reps had to fully comprehend their customers’ needs, and the managers had to know what was going on with the reps.
We brought everyone together, managers and reps, to examine their listening habits and their impact on sales performance. No need to go through the whole process here with you, but let me tell you the three techniques we taught them to practice with clients to improve their sales numbers by being more flexible when they listened:
- Check for Understanding.
- Go slow to move fast
Inquire: Clients are always flattered when you ask about their business goals, challenges, and history. It shows you’ve done your homework when you go into a sales call with some excellent thought-provoking questions already prepared. Most customers will gladly answer intelligent questions. If you show up with good inquiries, you will most likely be seen as interested, smart, thoughtful and on their side.
Check for understanding. Far too many sales people jump off an interaction too early. They think they “get it” when what they’ve gotten is their own interpretation of the task or problem, not necessarily what the customer has to share. “Let me see if I understand” should be the sales person’s mantra. Reiterate what the customer said, but in your words, not parroting, but paraphrasing. Both the rep and the customer should walk away from an interaction with clarity and confidence.
Go slow to move fast. What the sales managers said about the reps being in a hurry is the downfall of many sales pros. They want to Make the Sale, but that’s a transactional view of selling rather than being relationship-oriented, which is the more satisfying way to work with customers. We show our participants how to use body language to control the speed of an interaction and create comfortable space-sharing. It might take an up-front investment of time to establish a relationship, but it’s definitely worth it to become the go-to person down the road. Sales people who take time to get to know their customers build trust, which is a powerful sales tool.
The salesforce and managers in this anecdote are working on using all four of their listening modalities to gather the most information possible from customers, establish real relationships, and use well-vetted information to provide first-rate solutions.
Whenever I facilitate strategic planning sessions, I always ask people to consider the unintended consequences of their thinking. That often saves a lot of resources down the line. I learned the concept almost two decades ago when I was working on a project lead by Dr. Edwards Deming, the master of the quality movement.
Dr. Deming postulated that the cost of an error made very early in the process was $10 or less. At the prototype stage it leaped to $50; at manufacture $100 and once in the customer’s hands, $1000. I might have the exact figures wrong, but his point stuck with me all these years. It’s too expensive to ignore the “what if’s” at every stage of decision-making.
That means the four (4) listening habits have to come into play when examining unintended consequences. Or said another way, what happens if a listener ignores some of the information available to him because he listens only with his preferred listening mode? He might not have intended to listen with only one ear, but there will most likely be serious consequences as a result of partial attention.
- Inner-Personal listeners who listen only for what appeals to their experience, knowledge and interests might miss out on meaning for others, details, and new ideas.
- Extra-Personal listeners who listen only for the impact on others might miss out on meaning for themselves, details and new ideas.
- Problem-Solving listeners who listen only for the details might miss out on meaning for themselves as well as others and new ideas.
- Conceptualizing listeners who listen only for new ideas might miss out on meaning for themselves as well as others and details.
It’s just too expensive to overlook the unintended consequences of poor listening.
When the listener is quick to disagree with the person talking, that speaker never feels heard. Instead, he has a sense that the listener would rather argue than learn.
That type of behavior is commonly seen in two-year olds and teens. While annoying, it is developmentally appropriate. Both of those ages are trying to assert and separate themselves from parents and want to be able to say, “I want control of my own life and my opinions matter.”
However, in an interchange between two adults, verbal competition is destructive as we can witness in the following scenario:
Speaker: When interviewing a candidate I always take body language into account.
Competing Listener: Body language is not a science. It falls under pop-psychology and cannot be used to make hiring decisions.
That Competing Listener, wanting to be heard more than he wants to listen, so he searches for anything to disagree with as soon as the interaction begins. No sooner does the speaker make the first point than the Competing Listener begins to spar. The Competing Listener uses strong opinions (couched in knowledge) to disregard anything put forth by the speaker.
What’s the point? This Barrier represents someone who wants control and attention. By competing, the speaker’s voice is silenced.
How to deal with Competing? It’s so challenging to be accepting of these people because they are tiresome and make it unpleasant to try to interact. They make me think of when I had the privilege of working with Monty Roberts, the original horse-whisperer. He’d encourage a Competing horse to run and run until it tired. There seemed to be magical moment when the horse turned to look at Monty to say, “I’m tired and this game isn’t fun anymore. I’ll see if life will be any better for me if I collaborate.”
As soon as the horse stopped competing for individual control, it became possible to learn how to work together. I’d say it’s the same way for Competing Listeners: let them muster all their assertions until they too tire of being a lone combatant, and then begin dialogue.
Sometimes, if you’re the Competing Listener you can acknowledge one point that you agree with. The speaker will definitely feel heard and you will soften what it is you listen for—“What I agree with,” or “The point you made about xyz is supported by some research I’ve conducted” or “You put a new twist on so-and-so and I appreciate that.”
Often the best way to stop coming across as a combatant is to say, “I’ll be playing the devil’s advocate in this interaction. Please don’t take my questions as an affront. I do it to further my learning and for us to do some shared thinking.”
During my research I came across a couple of instruments that promised to tell me if I was a good or bad listener. Sign me up. I want the world to think of me as a considerate, interested and intelligent listener, so I answered the questionnaires accordingly. I responded by circling all the things I believe good listeners do and ignoring their opposites. My scores indicated that, indeed, my listening skills were world class.
Fast forward to reality. My one son, Alex, would often chide me by saying, “Mom, you’re not listening.” To show him he was wrong, I repeated the last words out of his adolescent mouth. He was not impressed. “Just because you can repeat my words doesn’t mean you’re paying attention to me.” He had me there. My ears and brain were working, but my attention was elsewhere (on the ringing phone, barking dog, hungry children, papers strewn over the dinner table, work deadline, tardy husband…).
Alex didn’t need me to make eye contact or even face him. I could’ve been picking up stray papers, or even feeding the dog. What he did need was for me to respond with a retort, question or acknowledgment to show I was connected and heeding his thoughts.
Good listeners do something with the information that another transmits. Message reception is not enough; the listener must respond. © 2007 Central States Communication Association
In my coaching practice, I’ve learned another attribute of the good listener: remain noncommittal while listening. In my early coaching years, I foolishly thought I was being paid to have answers.
A primatologist at the Bronx Zoo, who I begged to help me become a better observer, disabused that notion. He told me to watch the primates in one-minute intervals and note what I observed. At first I didn’t notice much unless they did something overt that anyone would see, such as moving position or taking food. Eventually my observation skills improved until I could notice small eye movement, sound differentiation, preparatory responses to others, facial expressions. After a fifteen-minute watching segment, the primatologist asked me what all the one-minute observations might add up to. Only then did I consider patterns and possible meaning.
His tutelage was invaluable. By remaining noncommittal while listening, it gives us the opportunity to gain new information or find out what the person is really thinking.
The third attribute flies in the face of what most of our parents, teachers, coaches, Girl/Boy Scout leaders (and on and on) taught us: obey the Golden Rule.
We definitely do not want to listen to others as we would have them listen to us. We want people to listen to us as we are, not as they are. I vividly recall an exercise in negotiation skills training that brought the point home to me. We were given a case study in which one person played a customer service agent and two other people played passengers, each of whom were vying for the last seat on a plane that was about to leave. One passenger had an important personal need and the other passenger had a pressing business commitment. The two passengers, ignoring one another, marshaled their best arguments, but the agent wasn’t compelled by either. He offered to flip a coin as resolution.
Only when the negotiation skills instructor told the two passengers to change seats as well as personae was it possible to reach for agreement. The role-play trio began to ask questions that indicated they were listening to one another’s plights and showed an interest in finding a mutually agreed upon solution. It took an intention to listen for meaning to come to agreement.
Thus the true Golden Rule for listening is: Listen to others as they would have you listen to them.
What anecdotes can you add to these three attributes of good listeners?
When I listen, I have a bias to listen for ideas. And that can get me into trouble. I need to know when to use this habit and when to flex into other listening habits.
Last week I was in a meeting with a colleague to explore ideas he could take to his client on using social media to reinforce skills and tools from a leadership development program. We stumbled around in an energetic discussion for thirty minutes. For me, with a bias for “conceptualizing” listening, it was delicious. That’s because my brain and my listening preferences are wired around ideas. I love them. They make my neurons snap. The idea of coming up with options in a situation is a luxury. So in this meeting with my colleague I listened to what I thought was the problem and as soon as I had it formed for myself I went off to listen for strands of information on which to build my ideas. I surfaced what I thought were ten viable ideas for using social media with this client. My reflection after the meeting was that I had been productive, I’d helped with some innovative solutions to the issue at hand.
One week later and my colleague debriefed me on how his meeting with his client had gone. Briefly: badly. He said that the ideas fell on stony ground. Looking back, I believe this was mostly because I had used the wrong listening habit. I had listened for germs of ideas about what types of social media might work for this client. In reality the big question for the client was not what to implement, it was how to implement. What I should have been listening for was “what is the problem or issue that the client is trying to address?”
Tim Brown, Chief Executive and President of Ideo, in a 2009 interview said “The big trick to being a successful designer is always making sure you’re asking the right questions and focusing on the right problems.”
In the Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio I learned that my dominant listening habit is “Conceptual Listening.” When I am listening to someone I invariably am thinking “So What?” The pieces of any presentation or conversation that really excite me are the new and novel applications or suggestions or possibilities. My development as a listener, communicator, designer, manager, contributor, is to know when to use, and when not to use this default listening habit. I also need to develop my usage of the other listening habits so that I can become a fluent listener who can really master the right way to listen and engage in different contexts.
Lesson 2: I need to understand my listening biases and master a range of listening habits?
Question: How do you know when to listen to generate ideas, as opposed to listen to understand the situation or problem at hand?