Listening

CONVERSATIONAL INTELLIGENCE® BEGINS WITH LISTENING

Listening:  again and again leaders tell me they or their team member needs to develop this skill.  Across industries and around the globe I hear leaders say, “I wish they would just listen!” or, in a better moment, “I need to learn to be a better listener.  I would be a better leader if I were a better listener.

Listening is a skill most of us in modern culture have not practiced:  when I train clients and I give people time to practice listening, I always ask:

"When did you learn to read?”

 “How old were you when you first wrote your name across a page?  Was it with a crayon or a pencil?"

The answers come... Reading:  3, 4, 5; Writing my name:  preschool or kindergarten.

Then I ask: "When did you learn to listen?"

Only the sound of crickets breaks the silence.

A dawning realization comes:  we are not taught to listen as children. This has profound consequences on us as grown-ups. We might have learned to keep quiet, but listening is not silence, it is more.

 Listen to connect.

I have spent the last month engaged in an intentional practice of listening:  listening in order to connect with the other person.

Giving myself a month to intentionally practice my capacity to listen, and not to simply listen, but listening to connect has been profoundly impactful.

·       It has given space in my marriage for more compassion.

·       It has provided space to my clients for more self-discovery.

·       It has given space in training for more creativity.

·       It has given me a chance to have my confidence grow:  I have learned it will be OK if I am simply quiet and able to notice others more deeply.

Both my other-awareness and my self-awareness are greater.  I can see how much space I take up and the quality with which I take the space.

When I listen to connect, I inhabit the space in a more profound way:  I don't take the space, instead I share it.  There is more communion and community, less debate and dissention.  There is more conversation and questions, less combat and more creativity.

I find that I breathe more deeply and that, oddly, when I am more open and aware of others, I am more in touch with myself.

I come to the end of this month of intentional practice with more compassion for myself and others:  more patience; more wisdom.

My capacity to be perceptive and insightful lies in my ability to stop, look and listen.  I notice others more.  The atmosphere of my days has shifted and grown more meaningful.  All of this, I enjoy.

While my coaching and facilitation experiences with listening to connect have been rewarding, the most enjoyable moments of listening to connect have been with my son.  Asking him to help his Mama understand what it is like to be a 9 year old boy opened him up to all kinds of sharing.  All I had to do was ask him a question for which I had no answer.  He knew I didn’t know, and so he felt safe sharing openly.

While I am grateful for the insights with clients, I treasure the insights with my family.

I encourage you to take up this practice for 30 days.  Listen, really listen.  Listen to connect.

Here are some quick tips:

·       Strive to ask questions for which you have no answer.

·       Make eye contact:  catch and maintain that person’s gaze.

·       Savor their words.

·       Stay curious:  try to imagine the life and experiences that person has had that led them to string those words together in that particular way.

·       Suspend your agenda.  Simply listen.

As you listen, search for ways to connect with what you are hearing, and to help that person feel that you have truly heard them and value their words.

Conversational Intelligence®, or C-IQ™, is an emerging concept among Leadership Development professionals.  The ability to cultivate conversations that allow us to speak openly and honestly, and then to make wise decisions together is essential for innovation environments in business, in government and at home.  C-IQ™ empowers organizational resilience and creativity, and creates a path forward in the face of conflict.

In recent weeks, the work of Conversational Intelligence® in our culture, corporations and community has become more urgent than ever.  It is essential that we grow in our capacity to listen, to share and to discover from one another in deeper conversations that are grounded in an effort to listen and understand, and then to find ways to collaborate, compromise and create for the common good. 

RECAPTURING THE LOST ART OF CIVILITY

Civility in the workplace is essential.  Not a cold civility as in, “I will be polite to you while on the inside hatred is coursing through my veins.” I mean civility as a culture of respect and forbearance, even curiosity and kindness:  a culture where habits of both manners and mores exist that helps everyone navigate how to act and interact with one another.

Uncivil behavior in the workplace drives down productivity, kills employee engagement, and impacts your bottom line.  People are effective when they are bringing their best selves to work, and when their colleagues do likewise.

Researcher and author Lars Andersson defines workplace civility as “behaviors that help to preserve the norms for mutual respect in the workplace; civility reflects concern for others.” Thomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke, co-founders of the Institute for Civility in Government, assert: “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity without degrading someone else’s in the process.”

But how do we put these ideals into practice?

Here is a quick list of norms that can cultivate great civility in your workplace today:

1.      Say “please” and “thank you”.  We learned it in kindergarten and the lesson still applies.  It applies to everyone, from CEO to front line new hire:  thank people for their work, their attention, their time, their effort.  I recall a Professor in college who would recapture everyone’s attention by saying in a very quiet voice, “May I please have your attention now.”  That quiet authority spoke volumes.  When she spoke we paid attention.

“Thank you” is the most valuable habit a leader can have.  How else will people know what behavior to repeat?  “Thank you” is a great way to instill the values, expectations and aspirations you desire.  And a public thank you that is specific and swings between the personal and the communal helps everyone know which direction to move to create success:

“Bill, your presentation on Friday was excellent.  The slides were few, easy to read and captured both your point and the attention of our audience with great images.  You were prepared with your data, but knew it cold enough that you simply peppered the facts in with a larger story.  Most helpful were the few, on-point specific examples you gave to illustrate your key points.  Everyone in the audience stayed with you, and I had several positive comments from the client. Great work.”

Now Bill and everyone else know several things to do or keep doing to be successful in their work.  It adds so much more value than simply saying, “Great job with the presentation Friday, Bill.”

When thank you is leveraged as an opportunity to coach the right habits, everyone wins!

2.      Be respectful of other people’s time.

Being on time communicates respect.  So does ending on time.  Time is our most valuable asset:  use it wisely.

3.      Say “I’m sorry” when you make a mistake or damage, intentionally or unintentionally, a relationship.  Here is the hard part:  work on meaning it when you say it.  This is not as easy as it seems: we need to allow ourselves to feel regret, to experience empathy for the other party, and then honestly and wholeheartedly say, “I am sorry.”  Look the other person in the eyes when saying, “I am sorry.”  Your regret will show, and that will make a difference to the person or people involved.

4.      Respect and pay close attention to the ideas and perspectives of others.

I could spend a great deal of time with this one, but I will move on to:

5.      Listen.  Really listen.  Listening is an essential skill, yet it is one we do not practice.  What levels of excellence could we achieve if we became expert listeners?  Begin by remaining quiet and deeply attentive when others are speaking.  Pay close attention to the words, gestures, ideas and meaning.  Attempt to see the world through their eyes.  It is a powerful experience to be listened to thoroughly.

Robert Fulghum, in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, captured the essence of civility when he quipped:  “Play fair.  Don’t hit people.  Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.”

For more on this topic I recommend Pier Massimo Forni’s book, Choosing Civility, the Twenty Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. 

WHAT DO YOU MEAN I NEED TO BE PRESENT?

I was working with a leader recently who said she felt like she was just scrambling through every day and could not remember the last time she had any fun.

I asked her, “What is it like to be one of your direct reports?”

She stopped for a moment and said, “I bet it is stressful, confusing, tense and not a lot of fun.”

I went further and asked her to describe her one-on-one meetings.  She said she was often late, distracted and multi-tasking (for example, she would email while “listening” to her employee.)  She said that there really was no agenda and that it often felt like they just hit the crisis of the day and rarely got to the important conversations.  She would finish (often a few minutes late) and then race off to the next meeting. Does this sound like your day?  I know it sounds a lot like the day of many of the leaders I work with.

In our highly caffeinated, always go-go work world of today, it can be hard to ever slow down and really connect with others.  We are constantly getting pings, bongs and alerts from our phone about the next important topic, meeting or task. When was the last time you were in a meeting and everyone was really present?  It seems like people are always sneaking a glance at their phone, laptop or tablet.  All of the noise and distractions keep us from being really present.  We miss out on using the brainpower in the room and really connecting to solve the business challenges. 

We can make a choice and decide to be really present.  In an earlier blog, I discussed becoming aware of our choices and then being intentional with our actions.  Let’s go back to the first leader. 

She is aware that the one-on-one is not going well. 

·       What if she was intentional about being on time?

·       Next, she could ask her direct report what their desired outcome for the meeting was.

·       She could then share her desired outcomes. 

·       They would then agree to stay focused and put away the electronics.

When the leaders I work with employ this strategy, they find that they can finish a one hour meeting in 30-45 minutes because both sides are really listening, present and connected. The direct reports also feel listened to for the first time in a long time.  Additionally, the leaders are reminded how much they enjoy the conversations with their direct reports.  If they are not careful, they might even find they are capable of relaxing a little and having fun!  What, what?!!

I know some of you are saying this sounds great but who has the time to do this?  I would counter that you are spending the time, but much of it is wasted trying to do too many things at once.  Take a moment to plan out your next one-on-one, use the method above, and see if you are able to really be present with your direct reports and/or team this week.

Thanks and create a great day!