"Listening is the front end of decision making."
There are many things that can make the difference between profit and loss, between good decisions and bad ones and between successful sales calls and calls that are a waste of time. Dr. Bernard Ferrari, used his unique vantage point as adviser to some of the nation’s most influential executives to discover the causes of the difference. Over time he figured out what the winners were doing differently than the losers. He became convinced that the key to winning was a superior ability to listen.
He searched for expertise on listening in business and discovered a dearth of knowledge. According to the American Society for Training and Development, U.S. businesses and organizations spend over $100 billion each year developing the skills of their workers. About 20 percent of that goes to communication skills. From that bucket there are 300 communication courses with only two of them directly addressing listening skills.
He decided to figure it out for himself and carefully monitored exactly what the best managers (winners) did to be such good listeners. He distilled what he discovered into lessons that he passes on to us in his book Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All. Here he discusses how to get information from your conversation partners that you need to make better decisions. He outlines ways to sort, store, retrieve and use that information to gain new insights and develop new ideas. Finally he shares how to model listening behaviors to share a more productive organizational culture.
"…half the battle is already won the moment you make the decision to try…"
In your effort to become a better listener, half of your battle is already won. How do I know that? You are demonstrating, by simply reading this far, that you are aware of your need to improve your listening skills. And I suspect you are open to introspection. Are you a good listener?
Many people, especially early in their careers, approach conversations as an opportunity to showcase what they believe they already know. They are consumed with the need to share their opinion and prove they are smart or ‘in the know’ or ‘on top of things’.
As a consummate learner, writer and speaker on making change happen in healthcare, you would think that I would increasingly feel that I know everything there is to know. Strangely it is an inverse correlation; the more I learn, the more I realize I need to learn! So, ironically, often it may be the learned who are open to being the best listeners… and learning more, while the ones who need the most listening and learning don’t yet realize it!
Being ‘the answer man’ is just one trap to fall into. Here are the six pitfalls Ferrari describes. Do you sometimes fall into any of these?
1. The Opinionator: “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”
– Listens to you only to determine if your opinions conform to his or her own
– Listens with a closed mind and squashes ideas
2. The Grouch: “Why did you even think I’d be interested in this?”
– Is certain that your ideas are wrong
– Approaches conversation as a necessary evil
3. The Preambler: “Let me preface this discussion by saying…”
– Uses windy lead-ins and questions as stealth speeches, designed to box you in
– Steers the conversation down a predetermined path
4. The Preserverator: “Back to my original idea”
– May appear to be engaged in conversation but not really advancing it
5. The Answer Man: “Look at me!”
– Starts spouting solutions before there is consensus about what the challenge might be
– Desperately eager to please or impress with his/her quickness and brilliance to feel valued and indispensable
6. The Pretender: “I hear you, I’m just not listening.”
– Isn’t really interested in what is being said
– Knows he should listen so pretends to
"The more you are talking, the less you are listening."
Ferrari advises us to simply keep quiet and get out of the way of the conversation. If you make ‘gathering information’ priority one, you will concede the lion’s share of the airtime to your conversation partner. The 80/20 rule is the gold standard. And don’t reverse it. The other person should be speaking 80% of the time while you speak 20% of the time.
I spoke with a pharma sales manager a couple of months after he was in my audience learning about the dangers of “telling” too much. He had a new trick. He had timed the amount his rep talked versus the doctor. After the call he asked his rep “How much do you think you talked versus the doctor?” The rep confidently replied, “I’d say it was pretty equal… 50/50.” The manager held up his timer as evidence of the sad truth. It was actually 90/10. The rep had talked 90% of the time. No wonder they still didn’t know how to help the doctor!
Sometimes reps are fearful that careful listening takes too much time. But Ferrari assures us that good listening doesn’t take time but rather buys time. It engages your conversation partner and encourages them to keep talking. The information you gather helps you get to the desired outcome faster.
"A productive organizational culture rests on a foundation of interpersonal trust and respect."
Have you ever been frustrated that while you have opened the door for your conversation partners to talk, they just aren’t coming forward? Why do you think that is? You may not have earned their trust yet. They must feel confident that they will be heard and their opinions considered. If they aren’t falling for your tricks to get them talking it’s because of just that; they fear they are tricks. Be sincere in your desire and interest to truly listen to what they have to say. Work to earn their trust first.
One way to help you earn their trust is to assume positive intent. Your entire demeanor will change when you are saying to yourself “Maybe they are saying something to me that I need to hear.”
Another way to help them open up is to show the person or even state it outright, that you have respect for them. This puts them at ease and encourages them to share. You might want to start a conversation by saying “You know, talking to you always helps my thinking.”
Talented people are attracted to organizations that value creativity, reward debate, respect dissent and celebrate breakthrough insights. These result from the interpersonal interactions that shape the culture. And guess what is the root of these? Good listening.
What one thing can you do to avoid the pitfalls discussed above?