Never Miss a Shut Up!

Many years ago a dear friend of mine recounted a "conversation" with his manager.

"...he's a master of silence..." my friend reported. "He says barely nothing and you end up telling him everything.."

I'm not sure how many books on leadership are published every year - "a lot" would be my guess. And yet if you had to pick one skill, one super attribute, one knockout tool for accelerating your leadership skill (and your results) would have to be listening.

The 18 Second Interrupt...

I know many doctors personally and these cats do a hands-down, difficult job. No doubt about it. Humans are complex and finding out what's wrong with us is tough. One of the very best ways to discover a patient's problem, is to gather as much information as possible from them: letting the patient talk about their symptoms and what's troubling them. However, one research project* cited that doctors were interrupting their patients after...18 seconds.

Now, may be those 18 seconds would be enough, if only the patient could express, in neat and exact terms, precisely what was wrong with them......if we are visiting the doctors in the first place I'd guess that's unlikely.

In many cases - both inside and outside a doctor's clinic - when we are trying to get to grips with a situation (or person) our understanding is almost always gained after a back-and-forth exchange. This process is often messy, not neatly structured and frequently allows new data to be uncovered.

To truly understand and learn from others requires us to be fierce listeners! Aggressive listeners.

This is Not A Soft Skill

Like many seemingly "soft" skills, listening may be dismissed as not being really strategic, not worthy of practice or not improving bottom line execution or profits. However, take a leaf from Sir Richard Branson. In his book, The Virgin Way: How to Listen Learn, Laugh and Lead, fully one third is devoted to listening...and I don't think anyone would dispute his success.

Listening is active not passive. In his book The Excellence Dividend, Tom Peters believes that if, after a half-hour conversation, you're not exhausted, you weren't listening hard enough. I think that's about right.

  • Listening is respect.

  • Listeners take notes.

  • Listeners make contact with you again if they don't fully understand something.

  • Listeners make you feel good, make you feel that you've been heard, and that your opinion matters.

If your team felt you were being fully respectful, totally engaged with what they had to say, took them seriously and made them feel they mattered, does that sound like they'd do a better job and come up with more ideas? Highly likely.

Don't be thinking about your next comment...

Many of our brain's processing capacity when we're "listening" is taken up with us trying to think of our next comment, anecdote or question. Stop. This means that we're really not paying attention. Our brain's are bad at multi-tasking and when we are thinking about something else, we short circuit our listening capability.

Another of my favourite quotes is from John F. Kennedy who said "wherever you're at, be there...". I love that. Be present and fully "there".

Customers, Suppliers and Teammates

It's crucial to engaging our team members but also essential if we really want to add value to all of our partners. Understanding how we can develop and enhance our relationships requires focused listening.

Quick Action Steps

If you're with me this far then here are some quick actions we can take:

  1. Carry a note book - writing down what someone says multiplies our understanding and connection with the information (30% of our nerve endings are in our fingers) and gives weight to what someone says.

  2. If someone stops you in the corridor with a good idea and you can't talk, make time to have a proper conversation later - usually by writing it down a reminder somewhere immediately - see note 1) above.

  3. Remove distractions - how many times have we heard this!

  4. Ask questions to qualify your understanding. But don't think about your response while another person is talking - if you have to take a few seconds to process the answer before you speak or ask a question that's ok. At least the other person knows you likely paid attention.

Here's to fierce and aggressive listening!

My very best and keep Scaling.


* Research cited in physician and Harvard medical school professor Dr. Jerome Groopman's book How Doctors Think.

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