Posts Tagged ‘effective listening’
Someone sent me a Job Aid on listening. The gesture was thoughtful because I like to know what’s going on in the field.
The Job Aid is well designed, has a model of different forms of listening styles and how they should be used. At first blush, I thought it was worth the $1.95 per card. Then I looked closely at the content, and once again bridled at the assumptions about listening as a style that governs how we pay attention. My goal here is not to discredit the Job Aid, but it is to surface the differences between Listening as a Habit and as a Style.
Our research indicates that Listening is a Habit formed in our brain, body and emotions. Our brain develops neuropathways around repeated patterns. For example, for self-preservation we’ve learned to look both ways when crossing the street, nod when we agree, and shrink from people who scare us. Situations trigger us to respond; and it’s the formation of those responses that is defined as a habit or a style.
Psychologists define Habit and Style as:
Habit is any regularly repeated behavior that requires little or no thought and is learned rather than innate. A habit is developed through reinforcement and repetition.
Style has been defined as an individual’s relatively consistent inclinations and preferences across contexts. It is a dynamic and organized set of personal traits and patterns of innate behavior.
The stronger the habit, the more we rely upon it, but the good news is a habit can be changed or modified with intention and practice. Whereas, our style is a distinctive pattern that is an organizing principle that changes very little, regardless of context. For example, an Extrovert may seek less stimuli with age, but probably will not become an Introvert.
The beauty of thinking of listening as a habit instead of as a style is that we can learn techniques to modify habits we overuse, and gain access to ways of listening we under-use. For example, a person who listens mainly for facts and ignores feelings misses a large portion of an interaction. By learning to observe body language and tone-of-voice that person will increase awareness of what lies beneath words and data, and alter a habit.
You’ve heard me say so many times that the Listening Golden Rule is: Listen to Others as They Want to Be Heard. That requires us to identify the listening habits we’ve formed, ask if they serve us well, then revise as needed to become a master listener.
In your dealings with Manuel you find him to be verbal, people-oriented, quick, and enthusiastic. He’s a good example of an Extra-Personal Listener. He’s fast paced and will expect Iain to respond in his time frame.
So, here we are, coaches, to help Iain interact effectively with Manuel, and the sooner the better before any negative patterns develop between them. That is more apt to happen when people work virtually. Following is some advice for Iain as he prepares to talk face-to-face with Manuel about how they will work together effectively.
- Manuel is concerned about people, so that’s the place to start. Listen to what he asks about the impact of information or decisions on others. Openly share what and whom you know and offer to make connections.
- It will be a challenge for Manuel to work virtually because he likes to be in the midst of a team. Get clear about how often he wants to communicate, how, for how long, with whom, and for what purpose. Extra-Personal Listeners need people to listen to, so don’t isolate him.
- Slow Manuel down by using questions. Extra-Personal Listeners have a tendency to think on their feet and can be very talkative. By asking questions of Manuel when you’re listening, he has to slow and think. That will give you both time to pause, something that you desperately need, for you to translate what Manuel is saying into your own interests or ideas, and for Manuel to reflect. It’s crucial that you take sufficient time to come to mutual understanding of issues, concerns, ideas before ending an interaction.
- Use “we/us” to show you’re thinking of others while at the same time establishing a relationship between you two.
- Adapt your body language to mirror his. Extra-Personal Listeners are the ones who are most likely to look you in the eye to show they’re connecting. Their voice patterns and body language are animated, and they can even seem loud to you. Match your energy to make yourself seem familiar to Manuel.
Rick has only been on the job for a week and most of his time has been spent with his manager to clarify roles and responsibilities. He hasn’t had any individual interactions with staff members, and he’s been in only one department meeting with Marge in which Rick did the talking about his background, work style, expectations, and refinements to departmental goals.
Rick and Marge don’t know one another, and they both want to start off their relationship on the right footing. Following is some advice for Rick as he prepares to talk with Marge about how they will work together effectively.
- Marge will not initiate conversation nor engage in small talk. She is not shy or off-putting, although it might seem that way at first. Mostly, she’ll listen carefully to what you say, will allow your words/thoughts to sink in, and won’t respond unless directly asked.
- To engage Marge, be prepared with a series of questions. You might even send her the questions beforehand so she’ll have time to think them through before you meet.
- When Marge does answer a question, ask a follow-up question that queries her thought process, experience, knowledge, opinion, rather than expect that she might say more beyond her initial answer. Marge will most likely continue her thoughts inside her head, so you’ll have to ask for them to be verbalized.
- Smile and show you’re interested. Marge’s body language is apt to seem removed, but her way of showing attention is to sit upright so there’s no clutter to get in the way of your communication. Don’t be concerned if she doesn’t look you in the eye. Watch for her to look as though she’s bringing your words into her head or even seemingly having an internal conversation—she is.
- Marge will appreciate your making connections to her work: my goals to your goals, departmental challenges and our combined ability to resolve them, our complimentary experience and work styles…
- End with a request to provide you with her thoughts about the meeting along with some suggestions about how to continue on a positive working relationship path.
It’s so refreshing to get emails and Linked In comments from people who agree that we all have individual listening styles. I still haven’t completely cracked the nut on acceptance that the term Active Listening is both a misnomer and misleading, but one mental model shift at a time.
Individualized listening styles lead us to conclude that each person must develop strategies to be able to adapt to others with different listening preferences.
Remember the Golden Rule of Listening: Listen to others as they want to be heard.
While our goal at Listening Impact is to help people do just that, it takes learning, time and practice to be an agile listener. One way to understand different listening styles and to develop strategies to listen to anyone is to use the case study method.
I’ve written four cases, one for each of the four different listening styles surfaced in Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio®. Please read the case and weigh in with your thoughts about how to help others adapt to the case-study person with the particular listening style.
Marge is a very well defined and practiced Inner-Personal Listener. She’s manager of Cyber Security, an increasingly important job. She pays close attention to people who relate their message to what she’s interested in and knows, and who don’t dwell on feelings.
Marge is considered in the office to be quiet and introspective. Colleagues who make presentations to her don’t expect a lot of questions during an interaction, but they are usually pleased to hear from Marge afterwards when she shares very good feedback, especially about how their information relates to what Marge is working on or responsible for. She’s also generous with her knowledge and willingly shares it with colleagues, most often one-to-one.
Alas, Marge recently got a new boss, Rick. She will be one of Rick’s five direct reports. He came from the outside, so they’re all strangers. Therefore, Rick is meeting with the staff to get to know them personally, figure out their work styles, hear issues and ideas, and determine how to create a cohesive team.
What 2-3 pieces of advice do you have for Rick as he prepares for his hour with Marge? Rick and Marge want to start off their relationship on the right footing
I’ll chime in with my advice on the next post.
Marriage, at best, is 50% successful as an institution, and many of those 50% are less than satisfied according to conventional wisdom. Why is that? Well, an easy answer is many people get married for the wrong reasons, notably to get out of the house, to be taken care of, to alleviate boredom, because the sex was so good, to leave an abusive experience, etc. Certainly those reasons don’t bode well for the longevity of any marriage, once the bloom is off the rose. Having said that, there is a way in which we can consciously measure the likelihood that any committed relationship will have longevity.
There are five aspects to being human – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and sexual. Why do I separate sexual from physical? I’m so glad you asked. Primarily because, in our society sexual is buried in the physical so as to avoid talking about, and exploring it. But that’s another story. According to the shaman with whom I studied, we “resonate” energetically with others in all five of those aspects. And energetically we are either in “cohesion” – energetically compatible, “adhesion” – there’s both friction and attraction, or “repulsion” – the opposite of attraction. It’s pretty easy to measure the physical and the sexual aspects, since they are, well, completely out there. It’s a lot more challenging to measure the other three – emotional, mental, and spiritual. And here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
To guarantee the possibility for a stable, long term, intimate relationship, we need to be in the same ballpark with these latter three aspects. Regrettably, they almost always take a back seat to the physical and sexual, that initial chemistry that makes sex so good, until it isn’t. So do we have to be in cohesion in all five aspects? Well, that would be ideal. But, no, we don’t. What we do need is the conscious awareness about those aspects that are not in cohesion, and a clear intention to work, together and individually, to improve those behaviors and attitudes that can cause friction.
So, we can be in cohesion mentally and spiritually, in adhesion physically and sexually, and in repulsion emotionally, or any combination. Have you ever thought about your relationships in this way? Doubtful, except as you probably have looked back on a “failed” relationship to see what probably was obvious to your closest friends. This doesn’t mean your relationship can’t succeed. It almost certainly means you need to make a conscious determination as to the kind of relationship – close friendship, casual friendship, friends with benefits, intimate relationship, long term committed relationship.
How does this show up at work? According to Carl Jung, we expect people to be like us; and when they are not, we can attribute negative conscious intent to their behavior. This often leads to judgment and conflict, which has negative consequences amongst team members, and between managers and subordinates. Our differences can result in poor working relationships, which will have a negative impact on morale and the bottom line; or we can choose to view them as opportunities for more effective and efficient teamwork, which will improve our personal and professional lives, as well as the bottom line.
Relationships, no matter the setting, require attention and constant positive nurturing if our humanness is to be at its best.
Charly Heavenrich – The Canyon Guy (Adventure Speaker, Life Coach, Author, Photographer, Grand Canyon Raft Guide).
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” - Jimi Hendrix
I’ve been reminded three times this week about how listening within oneself makes all other listening much better. The first occurrence was in yoga, the second was watching kids play soccer, and the third in an NPR piece on mindfulness.
I’ve been a yoga practitioner for decades and most classes begin and end with silence and breathing. At the start of class we close our eyes, sit and breath for a few minutes to help transition from our busy day to our yoga practice. We end class by gathering up what we’ve done in class to prepare us to re-enter the rest of our day.
I suffer from a “monkey mind” that is chattering away instead of staying present within myself. Instead of listening to my breath and clearing my head, I start to think—there’s an endless number of things to think about too, so I lose the intent and beauty of the final posture.
However, this past week at the end of class, I stretched out, blanket over my reclining body, and my monkey mind was still. The instructor’s voice was soothing, but I heard none of her words. As my breathing deepened I “heard” my organs doing their work, muscles sighing as they relaxed, and circulation system flowing throughout my body. There were no separate parts to Marian; we were one—inside and out.
For the rest of that day, and even for days to come, I heard people in new ways—words were packed with meaning, what wasn’t said came to the fore, and my focus on others was total. I’m grateful for the experience and want so to be able to sustain the relationship between what goes on within me and how I interact with others.
The second incident was when I was in Vail watching an extended family member play soccer. At one point in the game, ten-year-old Max, playing midfield, was under siege. He did a masterful job deflecting the attack. On the sidelines there was lots of cheering, but like many an athlete, he never broke concentration.
After the scoreless game ended, I asked Max what that moment was like for him, and he remembered the scene in slow motion. He replied something like, “I heard my heart pumping and my lungs breathing, then after I kicked the ball away from me, I heard my coach saying I did a great job holding position.” Being in the zone like that isn’t rare for an athlete, but what was enlightening to me was that the coach was at the opposite end of the field, out of earshot, and still Max’s auditory acuity was so heightened he could hear the coach’s words, sensing they were for him.
The third occurrence was when listening to NPR, I heard the college professor guest discussing mindfulness, (can you imagine that at most colleges?). He spoke of an undergraduate class he took and the first assignment was to scrutinize a raisin without actually tasting it. I think he said each student had to identify sixty-four different things about the little dried up grape (there were three in those last four words). That experiment was followed by lecture and even more hands-on experiences, all designed to help students become aware of their inner and outer worlds to be mindful at all times and under all circumstances.
So, when people ask me how to become a master listener, do I suggest they study a raisin, concentrate like a competitive athlete, or take up yoga? Maybe. I do know that the kind of listening people yearn for requires the listener to go deep inside to hear all that’s available and to be 100% present with others.
Following are some questions that might help you inventory your listening mindfulness:
- Are you aware of your “monkey mind” or internal chattering that’s happening when you are in an interaction?
- Do you consciously take a deep breath to focus or re-focus your attention on the speaker(s)?
- Have you created techniques to still your inattention? Do you practice those techniques?
- When you are in an interaction do you endeavor to shut out all distractions?
- Can you slow down the speed with which you react to what’s going on around you?
- Do you take time to understand the speaker, as if s/he’s a raisin to be examined before actually beginning an interaction?
- To what extent do you balance listening from within with all that surrounds you?
- Once you are in a state of mindfulness, how do you sustain it under challenging circumstances?
Let us learn how you practice being a mindful listener, and what effect it has on your interpersonal interactions.
“Marian, very interesting and quite varied. All comments proving that you get nothing for nothing.” Iain Duffin
Iain Duffin is one of the executives interviewed for the personal development journey study (results posted September 26-October 17). His comment brought to mind the notion that listening requires effort, but often people assume it’s natural and easy. As most writers and researchers say, hearing is not the same as listening. Hearing is an anatomical function for most people while listening is a conscious skill.
I’m a frequent traveler and marvel at the cost to airlines of agents who mouth words, but don’t listen. For example, the other day two flyers had an international connection problem that the agent probably heard thousands of times. The young couple was flying to the middle east for some family emergency, she quite pregnant, wearing a burka, and not a native English speaker, needed the agent to be helpful and confident. Instead the agent apologized, said there was no way they could get to their destination within 24 hours of their scheduled arrival and suggested they rebook. The couple stood their paralyzed. Finally the woman requested that the agent look at other airlines. The agent said she couldn’t do that unless it was an emergency. Now I, standing next to the couple, knew that was the case, but the agent wasn’t paying attention from the start and went into automatic pilot mode. The whole transaction took much longer and was much less customer-friendly than was necessary had the agent been listening.
I imagine if I asked the agent why she didn’t pick up on the couple’s situation, she would have put the blame on overwork, or some other airline fault. It’s not unusual for employees to tell me their organization is short staffed. During this economic recovery that’s probably true in many cases. But sometimes the real issue is inefficiency that comes from acting before understanding. If they added staff, more people not listening wouldn’t solve their perceived problems. We’ve seen many examples of fewer skilled people accomplishing much more than many who haven’t been trained.
When we’ve worked with organizations to increase listening, and employees practice flexible and focused listening, there’s more efficiency because fewer things fall through the cracks. Rather than glossing over what senders are saying, our listeners:
- Ask enough questions to be absolutely clear about the issues and expectations
- Loop back to the original points made by the sender to check for accuracy
- Use different listening strategies depending on the style of the sender
- Over-communicate to heighten importance of the message(s)
- Be congruent with message, body language and tone-of-voice
To master all those listening skills, as Iain says, means putting in effort—every time and for every person.
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.
We here at Expanding Thought®, Inc., home of the innovative Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio® assessment and Listening Impact®, have been privileged to be a part of the fascinating discussion initiated by Kimberly Gleason, “What do you think is the number one listening skill?” on the LinkedIn Organization Development and Training Forum. Given our interest in listening skills we were especially excited by Kimberly’s topic and the ensuing discussion.
Kimberly’s strategies include; Focus on the Other Person, Show Interest, Observe Body Language, Paraphrase What the Person Said, Ask Questions, and Use Silence.
An extensive and enlightening discussion took place over a two-month period with 56 respondents, and it was difficult to keep track of what listening skills were mentioned. That’s why we took it upon ourselves, with Kimberly’s permission, to compile a list of the listening skills. Many of the skills had similar meanings and were grouped together; others stood out on their own. All of them were unique and insightful. We hope we’ve captured them all. If you see any missing, please feel free to contact us.
Click this link to download the list (in Excel format), LI Disc List
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?