All About Listening

His Ability to Listen

Hearing and listening are two different things. You can hear a siren; you can hear your neighbor berating each other. Unless you are waiting for an ambulance or you are looking for another topic to gossip about, then you are not listening. Listening takes great effort. Whenever my wife and I are in the car that is when we have some of our best conversations. As she is talking, sharing with me her most life changing idea, then at a pivotal point in the conversation, she decides to invite my input by asking what do you think. At this juncture of the conversation will decide if I have a future with her or not. I need to choose my next words carefully. What if I were to say could you repeat what you just said honey, then that will prove that I was not listening. Where was I all along? How will she feel? Well for one she is going to internalize this issue by thinking that she is not important.

Work Environment

The same principle can be applied to the workplace. A good leader will always be a good listener. Imagine that one of your team members has a problem or an idea they need to share with you. So, this team member mustered up some bravery to reveal what is in their heart. After they are finished sharing, what you do next will determine your success in this company. If your response proves that you were not listening, and this is the culture you have created in your work environment, your greatest asset which is your team will no longer be a team or your team. Yes, both you and they will work in the same building, but you are no longer a team. Their priority is to do the bare minimum and to watch the clock.

John Maxwell illustrates it very well. As soon as the clock hits leaving time, the only thing you will see inside the workspace are papers floating in the air from how fast they left the building. If you should look through the window, there would only be leaves floating. You may wonder how come they can leave so fast, well that is because as soon as they arrive at work, they back their cars into the parking space. They are already thinking about leaving.

Steps To Good Listening

So how do you listen? As they are speaking, you want to be looking them in the eye or at whatever they are showing you. But do not steer. You want to be nodding your head where ever you can agree but not like a bobble head. Sometimes you can nod your head at areas that you do not agree; this does not mean that you agree with them. Instead, you are saying that you hear what they are saying and you understand. Use words like “yes” this will let your team know that you are listening. Ask question as they are sharing, this will confirm to your team that you are following along. Do not interrupt and take over the conversation. This is their moment allow them to run the show. If you must comment, start with words like, “so what you are saying is… ” but keep it brief. When they solicit your input or if you see a problem with the idea start with words such as what if we were to do it this way or that way so that… “ I must encourage you that you are not losing power or face by asking your team member what they think. Instead, you are empowering them and confirming to them that they are a valuable player.

At the end of this conversation, your team member will walk away thinking that you are the greatest leader. That you do care, and that they are in a place where they are valued. They will go the extra mile for you if needed; they will defend you if needed. They won’t even notice that there is a clock on the wall.

How To Get Better Communication

I’m sure you will have heard the saying ‘I say what I mean and I mean what I say.’

If only communication was that simple, we wouldn’t spend our lives in a perpetual state of conflict and misunderstanding. Take the simple phrase ‘that wasn’t what I wanted.’ You couldn’t be clearer. Could you?

Well let’s consider that. If I say ‘that wasn’t what I wanted’, what I really mean is, ‘I wanted something else’. Possibly something I’m certain I’d explained quite clearly to you, or potentially something I hadn’t explained at all but assumed you would know.

But as we all know communication is second nature to us all. After all, don’t we communicate every minute of every day?

Communication though is not nearly as easy as we let ourselves believe. But there are some clearly defined approaches that can help.

1. Know your own and other peoples ‘default’ communication styles

This is most certainly the starting point. Without knowing your own and other peoples starting points there is little likelihood of understanding and effective communication.

So, how do we do this so we can understand and be more easily understood by other people (at least most of the time)?

In his book The Emotions of Normal People, published in 1928, Dr William Marston took a very different tack from other psychologists of the day who tended to focus on illness or deviance. Dr Marston wanted to understand how we can better understand each other in normal situations, and indeed how our behaviour changed from situation to situation. Marston found there to be four main personality traits base on our perceptions of our environment and of ourselves within that environment. The four personality traits, or ‘default’ traits, are Dominant, Influencer, Steadiness and Conscientious.

Marston’s research became known as the DISC behavioural model. If you know your own and other’s ‘default’ traits you will be in a position to communicate more effectively, cut off potential conflict situations at the pass, and influence your own or your team’s potential for success.

So what are these ‘default’ styles?

• Dominant styles want to ‘tell’ it as it is. They tend to be direct and to the point. When communicating with a D the best approach is to be direct, don’t waffle, be brief and keep it solutions orientated.
• Influencer styles want to ‘sell’ it through persuasion, positivity and fun. They tend to sell the big picture idea rather than sweat the detail. When communicating with an I the best approach again is to keep it brief, but light and upbeat, with not too much detail.
• Steadiness styles want to ‘listen and consult’. They tend to want a friendly, conflict free and unhurried approach. When communicating with an S give lots of time for them to reflect so they can decide at a steady pace and don’t come across as too challenging.
• Conscientious styles want it ‘written down’ with lots of attention to detail and clearly defined explanations. The tend to want a more distant, professional approach. When communicating with a C give lots of data, quality responses and show you have considered the risks involved.

2. Truly listen

There is an old saying ‘we have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion’. I rarely come across this in practice. Too often we are desperate to get our two-pennies worth in so spend most of our time thinking what we will be saying next and looking for the gap that will allow us to interject.

Let’s be honest. Listening is hard.

Listening is about being willing to focus on the other person rather than the self. This is energy intensive (so can be tiring) and can make us feel vulnerable (because we might not know what we are supposed to say next). But in fact active and focused listening allows us to hear what is truly being said and opens up opportunities for higher quality questions.

On the one hand this illustrates to the other person that they are truly being listened to and builds rapport and their self-esteem. And on the other hand enables you to get the core root of what is really being communicated.

3. Clarity in our speech

If we refer back to our opening illustration, we can better see what clarity on your speech might mean.

Let’s consider that simple phrase ‘that wasn’t what I wanted.’

When I say ‘that wasn’t what I wanted’, did I really mean, ‘I wanted something else’. Possibly something I’m certain I’d explained quite clearly to you, or potentially something I hadn’t explained at all but assumed you would know.

Or did I really mean;
• ‘Let’s fight about this because you are challenging my power base’.
• Or possibly ‘I don’t like you anymore’.
• Or what about ‘I don’t appreciate what you have done and all the extra work you put in’.
• But it could just as easily have been ‘you’ve done this all wrong, your incompetent’.

The best approach I know to deal with this is through what Bev James, Author of DO IT! OR DITCH IT, called the ‘DISC walk’. When we need to communicate something of importance try looking at your phrase from the perspective of each of the DISC personality styles.

4. Non-verbal

The non-verbal aspects of communication are often overlooked for the more obvious (whether verbal or written). Yet non-verbal cues such as body language, including facial expression, tone and pace of voice have a powerful impact on how we understand the message being communicated.

Indeed, the non-verbal aspects are all the ‘first impressions’ that will enable our message to get through or cause it to get blocked. There needs to be congruence between the ‘image’ we convey and the other persons ‘default’ style, as well as congruence between the image and the message. A difficult balancing act.

To deal with this we need to consider closely those things which can help or could hinder effective communication:
• Stance – is it open or closed? Are your hands open and exposed or closed and bunched? Are your legs firmly planted and balanced or crossed?
• Eye contact – is there contact or are they diverted? (be aware though that different cultures have different expectations around eye contact).
• Tone of voice – is it reasoned, aggressive, excited or bored?
• Pace – is the voice quick, even or slow? Clipped or rhythmic?

5. Written

If we refer back to our four DISC personality traits, each has a preferred written style.

• Dominant styles are likely to use bullet points that will be short and concise. In fact, in emails the whole message might be typed in the subject line.
• Influencer styles are the great talkers, but in written format they will also tend to use bullet points but with a friendlier range of words. In emails they will likely start and end on much more pleasantries.
• Steadiness styles are the great listeners. In the written format they can expect more detail, especially in relation to ‘why’ and ‘how this is likely to impact on the team’. In emails you need to be careful there is no ambiguity.
• Conscientious styles want everything written down. There emails will be very long due to their need to include lots of attention to detail. As a consequence, these are unlikely to be read by either a D or an I who will only read the headline.

6. Story telling

Stories are how we learn.

There are great advancements taking place in the fields of neuroscience that are showing us what the story tellers of old, in the oral tradition, have always known: our biology drives our emotions, such as the release of oxytocin (the feel good chemical) when we hear good aspects in a story, or the release of dopamine from our limbic (reward center) that triggers feelings of hope and optimism when we hear happy endings.

The old notion of having a beginning, middle and end to your story (message being communicated) relates specifically to our expected pattern that makes things easily memorable. This is related to what is called ‘episodic’ memory; the brain’s own need for direction and pattern, for cause and effect.

Bringing it all together

Communication has no quick fix, but does have predictable approaches that can minimize confusion and conflict, and ensure we get across as near to the message we are trying to convey as is possible. In a world which is becoming more complex, ambiguous and uncertain there is even more of a need for communication through well-crafted stories.

How To Be a Wise Communicator

1. Deal with issues as they occur so that they don’t pile up and form resentments.
2. Agree that you will use the sports time-out signal when you need a break just to cool down. That will tell the other person that you are safe and will return once you have dealt with negative emotions and are ready to talk again.
3. Choose a quiet time without distractions to have conversations about serious topics. Discussions during a final football game or when other people are in the room are not appropriate.
4. Talk and act in a respectful way. Use your manners. Is your behaviour and attitude the same as it would be if there was a small grandchild present? Model the behaviour that you expect from others.
5. Separate the person and the problem. It never helps to attack a person’s character when dealing with a specific issue.
6. If you don’t understand, then gently ask questions. Remember the old television program “Colombo”? The star would begin gathering information by saying something like “I’m confused”. State this and then ask the other person to tell you about what they are going through, feeling or hoping for.
7. When you are angry ask yourself “What am I afraid of?” “What is being threatened that makes me feel like I need to protect myself?”
8. If you have an attitude of being in a competition where you feel that you need to win – you lose.
9. Even if you are right, remember that being stubborn or nagging won’t really change things. In fact, it just make you look like you are the problem.
10. Think about how you might talk or do things differently if you knew that you or the other person was going to die tonight.
11. Consider your tone. It’s not the words you say but the music you play.
12. Answer questions in positive terms. Don’t tell the other person what you want them to stop doing. Tell them what you would like them to do instead.
13. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Does s/he feel respected, cherished and cared about?
14. Be honest about your own weaknesses. If you are hearing the same thing or experiencing the same problem with more than one person, perhaps you are the problem.
15. Beware of listening to the advice of “shadow people”. They are individuals who will tell you what to do but do not experience any of the consequences if you actually follow their advice.
16. Recognize that you cannot change other people. Others only change when life isn’t working for them no matter what you think or do.
17. Admit your faults and ask forgiveness.
18. Work on improving yourself.
19. Be realistic. Arguing about the same thing over and over again does not solve anything. In fact, over time, it negatively affects the health and relationship for both of you.
20. Get professional help. Learning how to deal with your emotions or gaining assertiveness skills can lead to positive change and better results than what you have been experiencing.

Strategy For Success

My greatest joy, as a teacher is to help my students discover their abilities and work towards their goals.

Many years ago, I received a call from a mother of a high school student. She said, “My husband’s employer recommended you as a violin teacher for my son. I would prefer a man to teach him, but will give you a try. My son is lazy and stupid.”

I replied, “Please do not talk that way about your son in front of him or to others.”

I agreed to teach this young man, provided that she would be encouraging to her son.

A young man with multi colored hair, an earring, and strange looking clothes walked in to his first violin lesson. His head was down, and he looked depressed.

We began working on scales, an etude, a solo piece, and the orchestra audition materials for the state orchestra auditions. He was a very talented young man and I told him so during our first lesson and all the lessons that followed. The honest sincere words that I spoke to him inspired and motivated him to do his best.

When it was time for the next lesson, a completely different young man walked eagerly up my walkway. He was neatly dressed, had his head up and wore a big smile. He took pride in his work and in himself. Each week I saw a transformation in him.

It was our fifth week of lessons, our final lesson before the state orchestra auditions. I told him how beautiful his playing was and what a good job he would do on the audition. Preparation makes all the difference! The honest sincere words that I spoke to him made him blossom like a flower.

He called me a few days after the audition and said with great pride, “I am the Concertmaster of the orchestra. There were over 40 people trying out and I won first place.” He said this with a smile on his face over the phone.

I told him how proud of him I was and that I knew he would win because of his hard work and determination. His Mother called and said, “Even though you are a woman, you did a good job with him!”

I bit my tongue, but thanked her for the compliment.

This young man changed his attitude and worked hard because of the “honest sincere praise” I gave him at every lesson. He went on to college after he graduated at the top of his high school class.

Do you remember a teacher, coach, friend or family member who complimented you? That compliment inspired and motivated you to work harder to do your best!

Have you ever mentored or coached someone and watched him or her succeed? How did you feel when they were successful?

I bet you felt proud and happy for their success and you walked a little taller that day!

Zig Ziglar, motivational expert and mentor in his book, ” See You at the Top” read the following story as a young salesman. It “made a lasting impression” on him. A young woman had sung since she was a young girl. She “made her musical debt in a church cantata. She had a beautiful voice and a great career was predicted for her. As she grew older,” she sang more concerts at local functions. Her family recognized her need for “professional voice training”.

Her family found a well-known singing teacher who told her every little thing she did wrong. As time passed the young women grew to admire her teacher and married him. Fewer and fewer concerts came her way as she had lost confidence in her gift of singing. Her teacher and husband had broken her confidence. When he passed away she was no longer singing at all.

Several years later she began to date a salesman and she would sometimes hum a tune while she was with him. He said, “Sing some more, Honey. You have the most beautiful voice in all the world”.

The salesman was not an expert, but he knew what he liked and gave her “honest sincere compliments.” She gained confidence from the salesman’s “honest appreciative words” and felt her joy of singing return to her. She was asked to sing in a few concerts. Once again with her confidence in hand, she resumed her career and married her salesman.

Zig Ziglar said, “She married the “good finder” and went on to a successful career. The salesman’s praise for her was totally honest, sincere, and much needed. In fact a sincere compliment is one of the most effective teaching and motivating methods in existence.”

Do you remember a teacher, coach, friend or family member who complimented you? Do you remember the compliment?

Coach John Wooden in his book, “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success Playbook” tells the following story: “When I was a young boy, I was at a gravel pit with my father and a young man. They had a team of horses and were attempting to pull a load up a steep road. The young man driving the horses was loud and abusive. In response, the animals were agitated, worked against each other and couldn’t pull the load. With a gentle voice and gentler touch, my Dad calmed the horses and walked them forward with a load.”

Coach Wooden “learned two important lessons that day.”

1) “Gentleness is a better method of getting cooperation than harshness.”

2) “A team can accomplish much more when it works together than individuals can when they work alone.”

Like all living creatures, the horses needed kindness and gentleness and honest sincere appreciation to move the heavy load. Remember this when you are developing others and when you are working on your own self-development!

Zig Ziglar shared the following story about a “beggar selling pencils” in New York. A “businessman dropped a dollar into the cup” of the beggar and rushed to board “the subway train”. The businessman suddenly turned back, before entering the train, and went back to the beggar selling the pencils. He “took several pencils from the cup”. The businessman apologized and “explained that in his haste he had neglected to pick up his pencils and hoped the man wouldn’t be upset with him”. He said, “You are a businessman just like me. You have merchandise to sell and it’s fairly priced.” The businessman then went to catch “the next train”.

A salesman “neatly dressed” came to a social function and introduced himself to “the businessman”. The salesman said, “You probably don’t remember me and I don’t know your name, but I will never forget you. You are the man who gave me back my self-respect. I was a ‘beggar’ selling pencils until you came along and told me I was a businessman.”

Zig Ziglar said, ” The greatest good we can do for anyone is not to share our wealth with them, but rather to reveal their own wealth to them. It’s astonishing how much talent and ability rests inside a human being.” Help others to discover their abilities.

When you mentor or coach others and they become successful how do you feel?

Doesn’t it make you happy and proud that you helped them become successful?

What are 3 ways you can empower others and yourself to be successful?

1) Each morning begin with a positive attitude, smile, and start your day by saying positive motivational things to yourself.

2) Give an “honest sincere compliment” to inspire, motivate, and encourage someone else each day!

Be like the businessman who told the “beggar selling pencils”, “You are a businessman just like me. You have merchandise to sell and it’s fairly priced.” Encouraging words changed the way the beggar saw himself.

Zig Ziglar said, “A sincere compliment is one of the most effective teaching and motivating methods in existence.”

3) John Maxwell says, ” Make people development your priority.” Help others to discover their abilities and you will discover yours too! Building confidence in the student and the singer’s abilities made all the difference in the world to them. Their futures changed for the better.

Start your holiday season right by doing two things: 1) begin your day with a positive attitude, smile, and say positive motivational things to yourself. 2) Then give an “honest sincere compliment” to inspire, motivate, and encourage someone else each day!