#004 - LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN! This episode, hosted by Dr. Charles Boyer, emphasizes the importance of being an engaged listener for all leaders, new and experienced. Features include tips and techniques for developing good listening skills from the point of view of an intensive listener.
Hello again! Welcome to Keys for New Leaders. OR, Welcome BACK if you’ve joined us for other episodes. This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s YOU, my friend. If you’ve already subscribed, thank you very much! If you haven’t, I invite you to click on the “subscribe” link so you will get announcements of future episodes and special events. And, as before, I’ll include three coaching questions for you, as well as a SPECIAL KEY at the end of the episode.
I’m so glad you’re here for this special episode (number 4) about LISTENING. Listening is a topic we’ve touched on before, but we’re going to take a more in-depth approach in this podcast. Listening is such an essential part of being a good leader. You’ll get some good tips and skills to practice in this episode. So, let’s get started!
LISTEN! LISTEN! LISTEN! That’s what I do. As a conductor, I had to learn to listen carefully to the ensemble in front of me, listening intently for tone, energy, phrasing, change in pitch and tempo so I could help the ensemble perform more musically. This is a compIex skill, and it takes several years and lots of practice to learn it. I used those same skills in coaching, as I listened to the client’s voice for tone, energy, inflection, changes in pitch and tempo so that I could reflect what I heard back to the client, to help him or her understand what the client wanted to communicate, and to help them learn to listen better to their teams. You can learn SO MUCH by listening, REALLY listening!
Listening has been described as the JUDO of communication skills – it’s gentle, flexible, and REALLY powerful. It’s important to remember that people LIKE being listened to, and that being listened to helps your team feel more engaged with their work.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it needs to be repeated: A research study of one million employees in over 2,000 organizations revealed that only 1 in 3 people responded favorably when asked how well their company listens to them. You heard that right – One in Three. That’s not a passing score, is it? Let’s ask ourselves what OUR listening score would be.
Good listening skills are essential to being a good leader. Paying attention and actively appreciating others increases their trust in you. The key here is that if others know YOU care about them, they’re much more likely to care about YOU.
Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, devoted over 20 pages of their landmark book to the importance of listening. Here are just three of their highlights:
Listen Deeply to Others – we don’t have all the answers and we can’t do it alone. We need to listen carefully to what’s being said and what’s implied, and we must pay attention to subtle clues, reflecting back to the team or to individuals what they say they most want to accomplish.
Listen First – and Often – Focus your attention on others on your team as you listen. Hearing and listening are two different things. We hear all the sounds around us – music, noise, conversations – whatever vibrations our ears receive. When we listen, we not only hear but we pay attention. Being a good listener makes YOU more open-minded and more credible.
Listen, Listen, Listen! - Good leaders spend more time listening than leading. It’s also true that people listen more attentively to those who listen to them. So what’s the message for YOU? Stop talking and start listening more at meetings. How much do YOU talk? How much do you LISTEN? If you find that you tend to dominate conversations, you may be implying that you don’t value other people’s contributions.
Let’s take a look at some different styles of listening. There are several different styles that describe how most of us listen to others. Where do you find yourself in the following list of styles?
· Distracted Listening - I don’t call this a good type of listening at all, but it’s what happens a lot of the time, sad to say. It’s when you say you are listening to others, but you’re really focused on something else. Some call it multi-tasking. I call that nonsense. Multi-tasking just doesn’t work. What does this really say to the person who wants your attention: “Go ahead, I’m listening…” while you’re obviously focused on something else.
· Competitive Listening – this is when we feel we are competing for the spotlight of the conversation. We listen for a break so we can start talking (which really means we are not listening; we’re like that bad actor waiting to say his or her memorized lines, no matter what the other actor is saying). We are thinking what to say next, rather than really listening to what the other person is saying. We interrupt or talk over the other person – I see and hear this happening all the time. The effect of this type of listening is that we insist on making OUR point rather than making an effort to understand theirs.
· Active Listening – occurs when we actively check for understanding. We listen closely and attentively, then restate or paraphrase what we heard, reflecting back to the other person, so we can correct OUR assumptions, if needed. This lets the other person know that he or she is being heard and acknowledged. It’s a powerful type of listening.
· Engaged Listening – this is one of the highest and most intense forms of listening. We listen closely and attentively, but we also are listening for nuances and unspoken meaning or inflections from the other person. If we were speaking in person, we would also rely on body language to help us understand the deeper meanings of the spoken conversation – a gesture, facial expression, a nod of the head. On the phone, we must listen for verbal cues – voice tone, speed, intensity, pitch variation, energy level – all of those and more! More recently, video calls have had to take the place of in-person conversations. The good part about that is we can take advantage of both visual and verbal cues. And you sure can tell when someone is distracted!
So – where do YOU fit in here? Are you a Competitive listener? A Passive listener? An Active listener? Chances are you fall a little short of engaged listening a good share of the time. You aren’t alone, my friend. Many people don’t listen well these days. When asked about their listening habits, many admit to “half-listening” or “thinking about other things” or “preparing what to say next” or “wanting to fixit and move on.” We don’t practice good listening habits, and we don’t have many good examples to learn from.
One of the best (or I should say WORST) examples of bad listening is a panel of experts on a TV news show. The moderator poses a question or situation, and then the panelists all try to outdo or out-talk one another with their expert opinions about whatever the topic is. Everyone talks, and no one listens. One of the good things about socially-distanced panels is that each person is separated from the others and only one person can talk at one time. And the control room can always turn off the mic.
Another famous story about bad listening is attributed to President Teddy Roosevelt. Tired of the meaningless but polite “how-do-you-do?” type of remarks in a long receiving line, Roosevelt started saying to each person he greeted, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” and people would nod, say something nice but meaningless, and move on. One diplomat who really was listening replied to Mr. Roosevelt with a chuckle, “And I’m sure the old gal had it coming to her!” Be careful what you say – someone may really be listening!
Well, we could talk all day about examples of BAD listening – it’s all around us, and sometimes it IS us! Let’s go back to ENGAGED listening. ENGAGED listening is taking place when we understand both the SPOKEN meaning and the UNSPOKEN meaning of what others communicate to us. We must – LISTEN …CLARIFY … REFLECT … and LISTEN some more.
Engaged Listening isn’t easy. We must practice receiving rather than broadcasting. We must turn off our filters and really LISTEN to what the other person is telling us. I’m saying WE here because this is something that requires constant practice – and I need to remind myself to always listen better. Here are some phrases you can use, or questions you can ask to help develop your skill as a listener:
· Tell me more about that – it asks for more information, and invites a response in an open, non-judgmental way.
· I’m hearing some resistance about that – this helps call attention to what YOU hear, and invites the person to talk more to clarify or more about what they are resisting
· How important is this to you? – this question must be asked in a caring, supportive manner, not accusatory. It asks for explanation, for clarity, and is non-judgmental.
· I’m hearing more confidence in your voice – this tells the person you noticed a shift in their energy level, and openly invites them to talk more about their feelings around the task or project.
There is another very intense, very deep form of listening. I’m not sure what to call it – but it involves hearing with your eyes, and seeing with your ears. Now that sounds crazy, but it is a very intense form of listening, and it is very difficult to master. Think about what an orchestra conductor does. The conductor has to study the musical score thoroughly before that first rehearsal with the ensemble. The conductor must look at the notes printed on the page, and hear in his mind what the sound will be when the orchestra plays. That’s “hearing with your eyes.” And when a sound is heard, the conductor can visualize the notes being played. That’s “seeing with your ears.”
You can do this, too. For example, look at a sentence in a letter or email, and try to hear what’s written in the voice of the writer. Or listen to the words of a song and try to visualize how those words would look on paper. That’s a good start.
Engaged and intensive listening must also include some listening in perspective. If you are listening to several viewpoints, where do you gain the perspective of the whole of the discussion? Here’s an example:
An interesting book, Maestro, by Roger Nierenberg, tells a surprising story about a business executive who learned about listening from an orchestra conductor. The executive visited several orchestra rehearsals and heard what the orchestra sounded like by sitting in the viola section, then the horns, then the double basses. Obviously, he heard clearly what each section sounded like. When the CEO was invited to stand on the podium by the conductor, the CEO heard the whole orchestra from an entirely different perspective. He heard the whole, glorious sound of the full orchestra, not just the parts. Now, what effect might this have on the whole company if the CEO listened to his people as carefully and as intently as the conductor listened to the orchestra? Think about this: How would YOUR work as a leader be enriched by YOUR careful and intent listening to YOUR team members?
LISTEN! It’s the highest compliment you can pay to another person.
Here are a few tips and suggestions for practice. WARNING: These are not one-shot tasks. Becoming a good listener, a careful and intent listener, takes a lot of practice. But I believe you’ll find these well worth your time and effort.
1. Draw two columns on a piece of paper. Head one column “When I listen, I …” and head the other column “when I don’t listen, I …” As you go through a typical day, jot down what you notice. No right or wrong, no judgment – just notice what is happening when you listen or when you don’t, and jot it down. After a couple of days, take a look at what you’ve written down. What do you notice?
2. At the next gathering you attend, or maybe your next video conference, WATCH a conversation. No, don’t eavesdrop, don’t listen – just WATCH. Practice “hearing with your eyes.” Notice who is speaking, and how well others are listening. What style of listening do you observe? What do you observe about good listening habits, or about poor ones? Again, no right or wrong, and no judgment. Just OBSERVE.
3. What’s up with this listener? If you were talking with this person and got a response similar to these examples, how would you feel? Which of these are examples of good listening?
a. No, that’s not the way it happened. It was John who said that we …
b. I know just what you mean. Why, only last week, Mary and I were talking, and she said …
c. You said that the team agreed to do this project. Did I hear you correctly?
d. That sounds very interesting. What else can you tell us about the project?
If you chose examples c and d as good examples, you passed! Examples a and b are all too typical, and they are not examples of good listening.
Now, I haven’t forgotten. Thanks for staying through the episode. Here’s that SPECIAL KEY for you: it’s one more “B.” following B Natural, B Real, and B in sync with your values. This one is simply: B a good listener! You’ll be amazed at what you hear!
It’s so good to have you here! If you’re enjoying this series, please take a minute to subscribe so you’ll get notices of future episodes and events. If you’ve already subscribed, great! And thanks so much!
And – that question is still open. Take a minute and tell me “What is your Number 1 challenge as a new leader?” You can leave a message for me on my website:
Coming up in the next episode: Your Committee of THEY. Who are THEY? Tune in and find out.
Take care, my friend, and stay safe and well.