Posts Tagged ‘listening skills’
W. Edwards Deming, was a true pioneer who elevated the quality of goods and services post WWII. He advised, “American companies have focused almost exclusively on the tangible products and services produced by those systems. They have often substituted measurement for management.”
I’m sure you’ve seen the aftermath of such behaviors in you careers, I certainly have. I’m reminded of the time I was invited to hear Dr. Deming speak at a convocation of senior executives at GM. It was in the early 90’s, a time when automobile companies were beginning their decline, and I was part of a project designed to upgrade leadership skills. I happened to be in Detroit, he was speaking, many of our clients were going to be in attendance, and they thought his topic would be relevant. I was thrilled to attend, they not as much.
One of the many brilliant ideas that the 90 year-old thinker had to share was about the real costs of poor quality, often caused by faulty decision making. I’ve never forgotten his formula, and have shared it often because it’s so powerful and graphic.
Dr. Deming said his research showed that costs of poor decisions are:
$10 to rectify inaccurate, incomplete, biased facts or details at the information gathering stage
$100 to rectify when that information is used when the decision is made
$1000 to rectify when the decision is executed
No amount will rectify the results of the decision when it gets into the hands of customers
Some tips to avoid costly decisions:
- Take much longer than anticipated at the information-gathering stage.
- Ask everyone who might have valuable knowledge, insights, and experience to contribute.
- Ask open-ended questions to broaden thinking and responses.
- Accept all ideas. That does not mean you have to use them all.
- Keep customers/end-users in mind.
- Inform everyone involved and affected about the decision. Whether their ideas were used or not, they want to know the results.
- Keep checking to make sure everything is on track.
- “Stop the line” when anything goes awry. It costs much less to halt the process than to re-do.
Columbia, MO, Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, September 15-17
About 30 of us gathered to examine the state of listening in our various worlds with a primary focus on the media. The sessions were loosely structured, which enabled conversations to range widely. With so many experts in the room, it probably would not have worked as well as it did if there was an attempt to rein in the conversations.
It’s always a challenge to share such an experience with people who were not there, so I will not make any attempt to recount the symposium. Instead, here are some observations:
What: The job of the media is to gather information from others. Their expertise is to listen to both what is and what is not said.
So: Skilled journalists are excellent interviewers. They have to ask “beyond-the-obvious” questions.
What: Many of those in attendance are people the media interviews. They have knowledge and experience to share, but may not necessarily be adept at being interviewed.
So: Chances are if the interviewer isn’t schooled in the art of listening and asking probing questions, the results of the interview will be disappointing.
What: Whether in plenary or in smaller groups, much more time was spent in advocacy than in inquiry, regardless of profession.
So: People who might be inquirers in their professional lives, might not carry that skill forward during other types of situations.
What: When people talked about the theory of listening, participation languished.
So: Listening cannot be approached as an intellectual exercise. If all the senses and emotions are not included, there is not full engagement, even when someone’s livelihood depends on listening.
What: We talked a lot about the responsibility of listening, and while we mostly agreed that it is no different, regardless of profession, we did say people really want the media to be transparent and accurate.
So: It’s difficult for the public to develop trust in the media, but authenticity and the intention to be open, increases the likelihood it will happen.
It was a privilege for me to have been invited. I am even more positive that my commitment to the science and art of listening is a calling—not just mine, but with many superb folks like those at the Listening Symposium. I applaud the gifted people who made the event happen, and I hope this is the beginning of our dialogue.
Stephanie has recently been promoted to manager of a newly created business unit, global business development. She’s been with the company for six years, initially as a sales person, and most recently as a regional sales manager.
While Stephanie is capable and well regarded, she’s sought me out to coach her on how to grow into a leader. The organization is depending upon her to develop a cohesive team, forge new client relationships, collaborate with other business units, and swiftly outshine the competition. Quite a tall order.
We mapped out a thirty-day plan that relies heavily on listening, the gateway skill to good leadership. The three crucial first steps are:
- Meet with each team member individually to find out:
a. What’s in it for him/her to be on this team?
b. What expectations does s/he have for Stephanie?
c. What factors will cause him/her to remain in or leave the team?
- Meet with the team as a whole to learn:
a. What are our individual skills, experience, and values that will serve the team?
b. What are the attributes of the best teams I’ve been on?
c. What are the pitfalls we need to avoid?
d. How will Stephanie be the leader we need?
- Hold an offsite to explore:
a. What was the thinking behind the creation of this business unit?
b. What is our vision to be a high-functioning team?
c. What are our team values?
d. What is our vision for the business unit?
e. What is the mission of the business unit?
Stephanie and I set about practicing her listening for each of the steps. Remember, her rise in the company was due to her ability to sell and mentor. That translated into more talking than listening, so Stephanie had to re-orient not only her skills but also her mental maps about what brings success.
- Developing a strategy to include a mix of closed, open and inquiry questions.
- Balancing advocacy and inquiry.
- Asking follow up questions to probe thinking.
- Using silence to invite others to complete thoughts.
- Mirroring body language, word choice, and tone-of-voice to connect with the speaker(s).
- Smiling and praising—being positive and appreciative never fails.
You might think that your organization would never support taking so much time upfront, but there’s lots of research that says any endeavor that starts slow, is equipped to move fast. Success is about momentum, and listening is a sure way to get the wagons headed in the right direction, and at the right speed.
The stories you tell engage the brains of your listeners. That’s a fact; consequently, the better you are at storytelling, the more likely it is that people will listen to you.
If we use colorful language and metaphors, we engage different parts of the brain. For example, “She held a bunch of lilacs that smelled like the sachet hidden beneath my grandmother’s pillow.” Or, “His presentation was like a bowl of pasta, a big blob with no beginning or end.”
Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. Whilst we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, disgust or else.
If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up, if it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active:
“Metaphors like ‘The singer had a velvet voice’ and ‘He had leathery hands’ roused the sensory cortex. […] Then, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like ‘John grasped the object’ and ‘Pablo kicked the ball.’ The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.”
What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains by Leo Widrich, 12/29/12 on Buffer
And then there are our friends, mirror neurons. The brain of a person telling the story and the brain of the listener synchronize. Uri Hasson, from Princeton University, and someone whose work I really enjoy, says that the storyteller can plant ideas and feelings into the listener’s brain, by the use of words.
Think of yourself at work and what you respond to. In one case a scientist says, “My experiment is showing compound x to be effective for people with hiccups.” How different would your brain react if that scientist says, “I’ve spent five years on compound x and now I can safely say that twenty of thirty people in the control group are hiccup free.” In the latter example, various parts of the brain would be stimulated, increasing memory and sustained interest.
Two additional fascinating points that Widrich makes in his article:
- Simple stories, like single-tasking, make it easier for the brain to follow. “Reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.” The notion that a picture is worth a thousand words comes to mind when you’re trying to get the listener to focus on your main point. The picture reinforces clear, powerful, and authentic language.
- “Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. This means, that the frontal cortex – the area of your brain responsible to experience emotions, can’t be activated with these phrases.”
Storytelling is not only engaging and motivating to the listener, it brings out the creative side of the speaker.
When I’m sent similar information about listening and listening skills within a short span of time, I take note. These two recently received pieces are worth thinking about and sharing:
The “third ear,” a concept introduced by psychoanalyst Theodor Reik, refers to the practice of listening for the deeper layers of meaning in order to glean what has not been said outright. It means perceiving the emotional underpinnings conveyed when someone is speaking to you. (The Third Ear: A Powerful Tool to Becoming a Better Listener by Bruna Martinuzzi in Open Forum, August 12, 2013.)
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter Drucker
It’s easier for some listeners to grasp emotional nuances than it is for others. Some folks just aren’t tuned into “the deeper layers of meaning,” even though they’re aware it’s a valuable skill.
Following are three tips to heed if/when you sense an emotional elephant in the room, but don’t know how to approach it:
Watch for physical changes in the other person. For example, someone might get red around the neck or ears, shuffle papers, look away, or alter body positioning. If there’s a marked change in body language, tone-of-voice or eye contact, let that be a signal that something may be up.
Ask questions rather than allowing the other person(s) to leave without getting to the real issue. Often, inadequate listeners don’t know what to do with underlying emotions, so they gloss over them. Have some questions to use in such circumstances. Don’t try to think of them on the spot if that’s not natural. For example, “What else might you want me to think about that you haven’t yet mentioned?” or “How has this conversation met your needs/wants?” or even, “You look as though you’re not quite finished. Am I reading that correctly? What’s left?”
Stay with the interaction until the person has left the room/area. If you turn your back or return to other work, you will end the interaction. Sometimes, the other person(s) has more to say—switching feet, standing but not walking, looking back, rifling papers, etc.—all indications there’s still more to address. Allow the other person to exit and you might even accompany the person to the door—such gestures indicate you care, want to share power, and are open for continued dialogue.
How do you listen with your third ear?
I walked into a new client’s office and immediately knew listening would be an issue for him. He was talking on the phone while looking for something on his desk, and then motioning for me to come in and sit on the chair he was clearing off for me.
Eventually, he too sat at the cluttered table. I asked him how he prepared to listen to people. As you would predict, he was clueless beyond saying, “I show up, as Woody Allen said.” That was a great opening for me to probe him about what Mr. Allen actually meant, not what the glib interpretation might be.
Actually, he didn’t show up, at least in the listening sense, which is dependent upon the listener to be engaged in the interaction. Here are three tips to assess if you’re prepared to listen:
- Do you devote all your attention to the interaction, whether in person or over the phone? That means no other devices are in play, posture is upright and squared to the speaker, and eyes are connected. Connected eyes look at the speaker, read what’s going on internally, but not staring. Staring is often vacant, rude, and can be invasive.
- Do you know why you’re there to listen? This client would go from meeting to meeting without a clue about what he was to listen for. He wasted so much time, his own and others, by not learning beforehand the purpose of the interaction. Just by asking at the start, “What is the purpose of this meeting, and what do we intend to accomplish?” changed both his preparation and the outcomes.
- Is this a good time? Obviously, my client wasn’t at all ready for me to meet with him. He had pressing issues that would weigh on his mind, and nothing else was as important. You do better service by saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t be a good listening partner right now. How about after lunch when I’ve taken care of this matter?”
Oh, and don’t forget to smile, ask questions, and paraphrase. But those are for another time.
What do you do to be a prepared listener?
How Listening Behavior of Salespeople Affects Relationship Outcomes: Listening Skills in the Workplace
I came across this piece of research and thought two of the fresh points add to our discussion about listening. Although the research was aimed at salespeople, the findings are relevant to everyone.
Summary of the research:
Rosemary Ramsey of Eastern Kentucky University and Ravipreet Sohi of University of Nebraska, Lincoln, conducted research to determine how the perceived listening behavior of salespeople affects relationship outcomes. They defined several components of sales representatives’ listening. You can use these components to demonstrate that you are open to your customers’ needs and available to answer their questions. The components of salesperson listening as defined by Ramsey and Sohi include sensing verbal and nonverbal information, evaluating the information provided by the customer, and responding appropriately. Characteristics of an appropriate response include responding at appropriate times, giving enthusiastic responses, providing relevant answers to questions, and answering in full sentences instead of providing one-word answers.
The two points that caught my attention are:
- giving enthusiastic responses
- answering in full sentences instead of providing one-word answers
They didn’t elaborate, so I had to do some digging to understand how those behaviors would translate into being characteristics of an appropriate response.
An enthusiastic response is heard as caring, tuned in, and intelligent. Sitting facing the person, smiling lightly, fluctuating the tone-of-voice, making eye connection, indicate that the listener values and is enthusiastic about what the speaker has to say.
I’m writing a novel and one of the characters too often responds with few words, which annoys the protagonist who doesn’t really get much meaning from such brevity, but she sure assumes a lot. That’s exactly what happens when the salesperson doesn’t share his thinking with customers. The customer is often left without enough information to make a good buying decision, and consequently, might go elsewhere, make an unwise purchase, or assume lack of interest.
Selling is dependent upon creating relationships and these two tips are excellent to practice. They’re visual, physical and auditory relationship-builders.
There’s rarely a time when you don’t have to listen, but in a workday, there are situations that require more or less of your full listening attention. For example, you might be a sole practitioner like a bench scientist or painter; therefore, interacting with customers just isn’t a large part of what you ordinarily do.
In the first column, put the listening situations in order of frequency. In other words, which of the seven listening situations do you engage in most (1) to least (7)?
___ ___ Interacting with customers: internal or external
___ ___ Coaching and developing your team
___ ___ Collaborating with peers on shared projects
___ ___ Influencing upward and across the organization
___ ___ Partnering with vendors or suppliers
___ ___ Resolving conflicts: building relationships
___ ___ Leading change and understanding questions, concern
Now, in the second column, put them in order of difficulty. In other words, which of the seven listening situations is most (1) to least (7) challenging for you to handle?
If the most frequent situation is also your most challenging, you use a tremendous amount of emotional and physical energy handling it. Conversely, if your most frequent situation is also your least challenging, you’ve developed skills to handle it.
Many of our clients tell us too much of their day is spent on difficult situations, and they want to learn how to change that ratio.
For our research, please send us a copy of your lists. We’ll share anonymous results.
5. Creative types are often seen as rather flaky — their minds leaping wildly from one bizarre idea to another, ever seeking inspiration. But a new study suggests that people who actually achieve creative success have minds that stubbornly cling to ideas, even to the point where it impairs their ability to shift focus.
6. Over the past decade, Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.
7. The difference in listening habits of men and women is more than just perceptual. A study by Dr. Michael Phillips, a neuroaudiologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found gender differences in the brain activity of men and women. Brain imaging scans showed that the left-brain hemisphere of men in the study was activated while listening, while both hemispheres were activated in women. This data suggests that there is a physical difference in listening between men and women.
8. A new survey shows 63 percent of Americans take a vitamin or supplement, but many wish the manufacturers would come up with a vitamin that would improve their significant other’s listening skills.
Commissioned by The Vitamin Cottage May 17, 2012
9. In his article in the Huffington Post, Wray Herbert discusses declining memory in Baby Boomers and what might help keep them sharp into old age. He cites a study from the Synapse Center, a senior activity center in Dallas, which also acts as a cognitive aging lab for psychological scientist Denise C. Park and colleagues at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Participants, aged 60-90, agreed to commit to a lifestyle change, learning a new skill (in this case quilting and digital photography) in a social environment that demanded the use of core cognitive abilities. A third group divided their time between the two new activities getting a variety of mental stimulation but less of any one cognitive demand. In addition there were three other groups that participated in social activities at the Center (something researchers believe to be beneficial in keeping the mind sharp), which required meeting and socializing with new people but no formal training. Others participated at home, where they engaged in activities that many believe to be beneficial, although not proven so, such as listening to classical music or working on puzzles. Others acted as the control group and did nothing out of the ordinary. The scientists believed, but wanted to document, that productive engagement is the key to maintaining mental sharpness.
The results were surprising; the photography students, including the ones doing both activities, did have a significant boost in memory when compared to the quilters. Interestingly, the quilters did not outperform the photographers in spatial processing. The photographers had a slight edge in this skill as well. Perhaps the bigger surprise for the researchers was that socialization was not as beneficial as anticipated.
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”