Posts Tagged ‘listening skills’
Thank you for reading this second part of three blog posts about recent fascinating research on the brain and listening. I found them all thought provoking; I hope you do too.
3. Believe it or not, according to neuroscience placing our attention on pain in the body makes pain exist because the circuits that perceive pain in the brain become electrically activated. By putting our awareness on something else other than pain, the brain circuits that process pain and bodily sensations can and will be literally turned off, and presto, the pain goes away. But when we look to see if the pain is gone for good, the corresponding brain circuits once again become activated and as they continuously fire, their connections become more permanently strengthened. By paying attention to pain on a daily basis, we are wiring ourselves neurologically to develop a more acute awareness of pain perception because the related brain circuits become more enriched. Our own personal attention has that much of an effect on us. This could be one solution to how pain or even our past memories characterize us. What we repeatedly think about and what we focus our attention on is what we neurologically become. Neuroscience has finally understood that we can mold and shape the neurological framework of self by the repeated attention we give to any one thing.
“The Thought of You” Joe Dispenza
4. …most learning benefits from give and take. And the greater the number of students in the room, the lesser the chance for interaction and, hence, for education in the classical sense of the term—educere, to draw out. As Koller, the Coursera cofounder puts it. “When you’re giving a lecture and you stop to ask a question, 50% of the class are scribbling away and didn’t hear you, another 20% are on Facebook, and one smarty-pants in the front row blurts out the answer and you feel good.”… “Why not take the 75-minute lecture, Koller asks, “break it up into short pieces, and add interactive engagement into the video so that every five minutes there’s a question?”
Fast Company, p.101,”The Coursera Effect”
The International Listening Association is an organization I joined a few years ago whose focus is, as you might guess, effective listening. I had the privilege of presenting at their annual convention in 2011, and have met some very devoted and knowledgeable individuals in this area of study. This article, “Listen Up! Here’s One Convention Where Talk Is Cheap,” posted in the July 5 online Wall Street Journal, highlights the important work they do. Click this link to read it, or go to the Listening Impact Facebook page and follow the link to the article from there.
1. Dispatches from the scientific front brought to us by popular science wunderkind Jonah Lehrer. There is indeed a part of the brain associated with a sudden “ah-ha moment” of the type linked to key breakthroughs of luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Archimedes. It is called the anterior superior temporal gyrus and it is situated in the right hemisphere of the brain, just above your ear. When you get a sudden insight it registers a huge spike in activity, just like that light bulb.
2. In a study scientists have observed that our brain stops us from getting bored when listening to uninteresting people by “rewriting” a dull speech to make it an interesting one.
The researchers have also observed that people listening to boring speeches adjust by creating an “inner voice” to drown out the offending speech.
The response in the brain starts the moment the brain listens to “monotonously-spoken” words it feels should be more communicative.
The consequent increase in the brain activity indicates to the presence of an inner voice, which makes “more vivid speech” in the place of boring speech, says the study conducted by scientists at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology.
“You may think the brain need not produce its own speech while listening to one that is already available. But, apparently, the brain is very picky on the speech it hears,” Dr Bo Yao, the principal author of the research has been quoted as saying to the Telegraph.
“When the brain hears monotonously-spoken direct speech quotations which it expects to be more vivid, the brain simply ‘talks over’ the speech it hears with more vivid speech utterances of its own.
“By doing so, the brain attempts to optimise the processing of the incoming speech, ensuring more speedy and accurate responses,” Yao stated.
The NeuroImage Journal has published the finding in the Sat, 24 March 2012 issue
I was struck in an article in Time Magazine (June 24, 2013 pp40-43) about Chuck Schumer’s brand of deal-making. He said:
“I’m willing to listen if it will help bring Republicans along.”
“If you want to bring somebody onto your side, you have to figure out what motivates them.”
“If you want to be a knight on a white horse, always espousing 100% purity, then you shouldn’t be in the Senate”
“I don’t like the far right. And I don’t like the far left. Because I think they expect they have a monopoly on wisdom.”
“I’m a politician. That means I have chosen my life’s work in the constraints of the system to accomplish as much good as I can. I accept the tough choices.”
Not only does he bring up the art of compromise in negotiations, he also speaks to all four listening habits that we’ve identified, and mostly he surfaces the need for everyone to learn how to flex their listening to others and to the situation.
What are your responses to his remarks, both as they relate to the current state of politics, and to their application to listening in your world?
Even people who know all the good listening techniques fail when they only pay attention for a brief period of time. They focus just long enough for the speaker to share partial information, opinions, problems, or ideas. These fly-by listeners don’t carve out time for the speaker to say all that needs to be considered, nor do they listen for implications, applications and unintended consequences.
For example, “’leadership by walking around” can lead to short term listening. The idea was to get managers out of their offices and into the cubicles of staff. Many managers complied by making rounds, much like a hospital physician. Yes, employees were visited, but the interactions were often hollow and pro-forma; thus not meeting the original expectation that the visit would result in real, meaningful conversations that lead to higher performance, better decisions, and enhanced relationships.
The causes of short term listening are expressed in these phrases:
I’ve heard it before.
I don’t have time.
This person’s rambling.
I know the answer.
Maybe a good idea, but we don’t have the resources.
My boss’ll never go for it.
Out of my jurisdiction.
And the results show up as:
I’m frustrated, demotivated, disengaged.
What’s the use of creating new ideas if s/he won’t give me the time of day.
Tough. I’m going to do it anyway, even if I have to go it alone.
If s/he won’t think beyond the moment, I’ll find someone who will or I’ll jump levels.
Resources, that’s a crutch. I’ll just rearrange the budget to fund this initiative.
This proposal has not been heard before—guaranteed.
Tips to reduce short term listening:
- Set aside time to hear a complete message. It’s better to say, “I can’t pay attention right now, how about tomorrow morning at eight?” than “Walk down the hall with me on my way to a meeting to tell me what’s on your mind.”
- Paraphrase back to the speaker to check for understanding.
- Stop what you’re doing, grab a pen/computer/white board, and make notes.
Learn and practice the art of inquiry—a leader’s job entails getting to mutual understanding with employees, and that takes asking a lot of intelligent, probing questions, followed by even better ones. Employees generally know a leader has gotten to his/her position by having smarts and experience, so there’s no need to pontificate.
I like to think of listening as an investment in the bottom line. Done frequently and well, information is shared, understood, and acted upon. That requires a commitment of time, respect, and patience.
I have a plaque in my office that reads:
Yes, of course I have a minute for you
Most probably like you, I’ve sat in on or made sales calls. When they go well, I rarely stop to analyze why. But, when they go awry, I go over every part of the interaction trying to understand what happened.
There are the obvious mistakes: insufficient preparation, unclear goals, performance pressure, and unfamiliarity with the client/business. Any of those problems can sink the call, but most seasoned sales people don’t go into a situation so unskilled.
There are four (4) less common mistakes that even well-trained and practiced sales people sometimes make.
- Ignoring the signs that you and your customer are not aligned
- Failing to course-correct when the opportunity is still there
- Fear about deviating from your organization’s sales plan
- Trying to cover up your mistake and judgment errors when it’s too late
You are in a meeting with your customer you’ve sold to for three years. She’s usually easy to work with and interested in what you have to offer. Today she stands after about five minutes into the meeting, looks at her watch and ipad that’s sitting open on her desk, frowns, and doesn’t ask one question. Mistake #1 you chalk up her change in behavior to busyness and plow ahead with your presentation.
Mistake #2, not stopping to ask what’s going on. It would be so easy to say, “Let’s recalibrate to make sure I’m addressing your needs because I’m observing that we might be off course.
But, you fear that if you take too much time or if you admit you’re off-course, you might question the sales strategy established for this client. So, Mistake #3, you stick to the sales strategy/goals/plan. That way no one will accuse you of going rogue, and everyone can put the blame for the poor sales call on the client.
But then, you see failure signs instead of dollar signs in front of your eyes. You realize you’ve erred, and Mistake #4 surfaces. You try to backtrack and stop selling, ask her questions, offer her some good deals, and even make some small talk, but it’s too late.
In this case, you didn’t pay attention to the non-verbals, failed to re-set by inquiring about what was going on, and made poor assumptions that a prescribed sales plan was the way to go instead of paying attention to the information the client offered.
Sales success is very dependent upon applying the Listening Golden Rule: Listen to Others as They Want to be Heard.
I recently attended a webinar delivered by a famous coach, and for the entire time the audience was on mute. How in the world did the presenter imagine he’d hold his audience’s attention while he talked non-stop and we sat passively, supposedly to listen to his brilliant message? But then, I also watched a TED talk. The live audience and we viewers were also ostensibly on mute, but I didn’t feel like a passive participant.
What’s the difference?
- The TED presenter personalized her messages. She used herself as an example, gave statistics that related to concerns of the attendees, and paused to let a point sink in. And she laughed along with the audience.
- The webinar presenter was more interested in delivering his content and how it related to him than its relevance to the audience. We were hundreds of unknown people, invited to learn from a master, and the onus was on us to listen and figure out how to use the information.
- In fact, there was allotted time at the end of the webinar for questions and there was none for the TED talk, and I don’t know what questions would have been asked if allowed. But, I could tell by the nature of the webinar questions that the audience didn’t exactly grasp the information. The questions focused on topics the audience knew from familiarity with the coach’s books and lectures, not on the content of the webinar.
I was an eager listener when I started both sessions, but it didn’t take long to either gain or lose my attention. One speaker earned my attention by her presence while the other lost me by his self-absorption. She created a sense of being in conversation with each attendee, while he was intellectually and emotionally remote.
Think about yourself.
- Where is your focus—on them or you?
- Do you speak to and with the listener?
- Are your messages relevant?
- Do you combine both facts and feelings?
- Do you check for understanding?
We cannot overlook the importance of the speaker’s role in an interaction. The speaker and the listener are co-authors of successful communication. And both are responsible to make that happen.
My last 24 hours was chaotic. The events made me think about how bombarded we are with noise and activity, all demanding our attention. At the same time, I was reading Breakfast with Buddha, a book that touts silent presence.
Thankfully, the lessons from the book’s guru, Volya Rinpoche helped me through the disconcerting events. After two weeks away from home, I was to depart from Newark Airport, only to have my flight to Denver cancelled because of weather. I stood in line with hundreds of travelers in similar circumstances. By the time I got to the airline agent it was clear that every airline was experiencing the same problem. Flights were severely delayed, cancelled or oversold. Triumphantly, the agent found a seat to Chicago with a connection to Denver. Alas, as he was completing it, that flight was cancelled. I stood in front of him, not making a peep while he continued to search and thanked him profusely when he secured seats to Houston Hobby that would arrive around midnight, and on another flight at 6:00 AM to Denver. How expectations lower.
I remained calm in the gate area as I sat and read my book, reflected on the lessons, and waited while the Houston flight was delayed further, then cancelled, then re-instated, and finally departed.
Not everyone had that kind of experience. Airport police were called to handle a confrontation between an airline employee and a passenger. I didn’t look up, ignored the din, and took even more deep breaths.
My quiet calm helped me think through a plan once we landed in Houston. I found a Motel 6, the only place near the airport with a room, slept for almost four hours, was taken by an employee in the shuttle, even though shuttle service didn’t start for another hour, made my flight, and had a lovely cup of tea without any awareness of people talking nearby or even airplane noise.
I am grateful for the opportunity to observe how a change in my behavior made what would ordinarily have been a very stressful situation, into just another trip—one that didn’t harm me and turned out all right. There was so much noise at every turn that I couldn’t control, but when I chose to ride through the situations with as much silence as possible, the noise, confusion and stress abated.
I’m not a guru, yet I invite you to try to remain quiet and within yourself during a situation when you would normally add to the noise.
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.
Last week during a coaching session the person wanted to know how to deal better in meetings as an introvert. She said it’s very challenging for her when she is expected to participate and just can’t find a way to jump into the interaction. “By the time I gather my thoughts they’ve moved on and I never said what I was thinking.”
I find that it’s torture for others like her to sit in meetings with either expectant eyes on them or being ignored and overlooked. This particular person functions just fine in interactions with just one or two people, it’s in a group where she’s overwhelmed.
We discussed trying a couple of practical tools to make it easier for her to speak up and discourage others from interrupting so often. One of the tools is a Talking Stick. The beauty of it is that the stick controls speaking and listening and allows for more equal participation among everyone—introverts and extroverts.
At the start of the meeting, the host picks up the stick from the center of the participants, reviews the issue at hand and the agenda. The host turns the stick towards the group and someone else picks it up and begins to talk. As long as the person with the stick is talking, everyone else listens. There are no interruptions.
The entire interaction continues with the speaker holding the stick, and then turning it back to the group for another person to speak. At first it’s awkward and artificial to use because most people are used to grabbing the floor by having the loudest voice, strongest opinion, highest rank. Gradually, the group learns to listen patiently until the talking stick is free to pick up. Turn-taking behavior emerges with time and practice.
Back to the introverted client. She really liked the idea of having the stick slow the pace of the interactions. “People speak so fast and about so many different topics that we don’t get a chance to chase down one idea before jumping to something else. We rarely have substantive conversations, and I think we make a lot of mistakes that way.”
I’ve used many variations from creating a ceremony in which everyone on a team is involved in making an actual Talking Stick, much like Native Americans do, to putting everyone’s work-badge in the center for others to pull out when they want to hear from the owner of the badge. Frankly, I’m not sure how it happens, but when a group uses a Talking Stick, their interactions become more measured and thoughtful, participation is more inclusive, and the output is more intelligent and creative.