An upsetting recent experience
Have you ever felt like the person you’re speaking to is just not listening?
Last week, we pulled the plug on a server migration. If you’ve ever done a move like this, you know how hard a call this is to make. The team had been working on this for the past five months. Multiple teams of people had gone above and beyond to make it happen, and to say we were gutted at this result doesn’t even begin to cut it.
What brought about this unexpected and disappointing outcome?
In the end, it came down to one question. It was one of the first questions we had for the software vendor. It was asked multiple times through the process, and it turns out, at the last minute, that the wrong answer had been given, multiple times!
It was like the software vendor was hearing the words and doing the surface motions of listening but not really getting it!
Oscar Trimboli (deep listening expert) really had this covered when he made this comment:
‘Projects that run over schedule and budget, (and) customer opportunities that are missed, nine times out of ten can be put down to that we’re listening to the words but not the meaning’.
Stephen R. Covey, of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame, shares his ideas on effective listening framed as a ‘listening continuum.’
Like a ladder of improvement, the pinnacle of his continuum is empathetic listening, at which point the listener has achieved the ability to listen within the other’s frame of reference. We see empathetic listening practised among a variety of professionals who want to help their clients, including counsellors, HR managers, CEOs and VPs.
It’s an important quality of leadership. One of the key qualities of empathic listening is to stay out of judgement.
Christine Porath and Douglas R. Conant researched the turnaround at Campbell Soup and credited an increase in what they called ‘civility,’ a vital component of this was ‘listening better.’ You can read about their findings here.
They talk about the time and effort that is required to create a culture of civility that has its foundations in listening, respect for each other and working to make people feel valued.
Like lots of other research, their findings showed that it’s the small everyday interactions that count towards building trust. They heard the question and answered it, more than once, but they missed listening to the meaning. The meaning for us as the client (customer) had a significant impact on the rest of the business.
To me, deep listening is a bit like an indicator on a car; right there and available for use but not used as often as would be helpful.
So how can we all get better at listening deeply?
Well, Oscar is an expert, and he describes four types of bad listening habits. I myself am an interrupting listener at times – seeking to solve the problem before the whole thing has been explained. In the case of our server migration gone wrong, someone seeking to solve the problem might well have helped us out.
Some tips for better listening
Sometimes it helps to have a physical thing to do, as a reminder or trigger. Some tips that I have picked up along the way that sometimes help me are:
- Take a deep breath (or three) and calm your own mind.
- Open your mouth a little (in a relaxed way, no goldfish impersonations required). Studies show that when we’re sitting in judgement, we’ve usually got our mouths firmly closed.
- Uncross your arms.
Developing our listening skills benefits all team (and personal) interactions. This means spending an effort acknowledging people’s contributions and improving our own capacity to listen better.
Getting to the meaning of what’s really being asked can save you a lot of re-work and time wasted. It might even mean that when you ask that one super important question, your software vendor will really understand what you mean.