Blue Moon…

Joe —  Tue 29-Dec-09 — 13 Comments
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Blue moonI suspect the right brainers out there are now singing to themselves “You saw me standing alone” while the left brainers are reflecting on the fact that this is the first time in 19 years we’ve had a Blue Moon on New Years Eve.I think it was somewhere around 19 years ago that I last attempted a New Year’s resolution. I generally detest them because they are a constant reminder of failure. When is the last time you made it through the year with one in tact? But hey, it is a Blue Moon and I’d hate to waste the opportunity.

Therefore, I hereby declare that in 2010 I resolve to ask more questions.

Why? (ok, bad start – not really a question) Well, the obvious – to grow, to learn, to better understand. However, there are many more reasons. Did you know that…

  • 80% of executives surveyed felt that listening was the most important skill a person possesses.
  • Highly successful negotiators ask nearly twice as many questions than less skilled ones?
  • 85% of what we know comes as a result of listening.
  • In 1999, 46% of those who quit their jobs did so because they felt they were not listened to and were therefore unappreciated.

Let me add one more, the one I consider the most important – it’s inclusive. For those of you on Facebook try this little experiment. Post a declarative update like “Rode 40 miles today.” Watch the response. Now post a comment like “I think Mr. Roboto has got to be the worst song of the 80’s. Can anyone top that?” What happened?

Questions build conversations. Conversations build relationships.

Here’s the odd thing, despite its importance never once in any of my high school, college or post graduate training have I been taught how to listen. You probably haven’t either as only 2% of us have had any formal training in the art of listening. Yet I did once take a course in high school on how to make my own shirt and create a soufflé, neither of which I have ever done in my life since (and shouldn’t have done the first time).

PicassoDespite never having had a course on the subject, I have done quite a bit of reading and research on the topic over the years and understand its importance. The problem is that I know it in my head yet I still fail in my daily routine. Why? Because it is hard. It requires practice and for most of us our egos make it unnatural.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Since I am not satisfied with my progress to date, I clearly need a different approach. Maybe my once in a blue moon resolution is that approach.

Today’s Question
Has anyone ever told you that you were a good listener? If so, what do you do that is different than the rest? If not, does it matter to you?

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Joe

Posts

  • Karen

    I’ll bite. People say I’m a good listener.

    The ability to listen is more than just acquiring information through the ears. Retaining the information is key. Often, the information naturally comes up again in a conversion. “Your aunt in New Jersey.. That’s Aunyrna, right? ” People are blown away by that stuff. For years, I couldn’t understand why that reaction was so frequent.

    It’s simple, really. GOOD LISTENING SKILLS = ACQUIRING information through one’s ears + CARING enough to REMEMBER the information + PLAYING IT BACK when the information is relevant in a later conversation.

    • Joe

      Good formula to keep in mind, Karen. I’ve always labeled myself as having a poor memory. However it’s amazing the correlation between what I remember and what I care about.

      Maybe the issue for me is to stay in the moment and care about what is said rather than thinking of the next thing to say. Now there’s something I could work on.

  • http://forwhateverreason.net Tim

    I was never trained on listening, per se, but I did receive some coaching on reflection that helped tremendously. I had a boss who would tell me to go do something, which I would promptly do. Once I completed the task, I would come back to her, at which time she would ask me, full of annoyance, why I did *that*.

    I learned that people hear and interpret things differently. That told me that I may not be the listener I thought I was.

    So how did I solve the problem? I learned to echo back. “Go do ‘x'”. “So just to be clear, you want me to do ‘x'”. “Yes”.

    It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how effective it is. You’ll also be stunned by what people take away from conversations as important. Many times it has nothing to do with what you consider to be the important part of the discussion.

  • Beth Garner

    I’ve also learned to have your children repeat the request. Especially, if the request is several steps long. Often they 1) don’t listen, 2) are confused about the steps, 3) don’t care, or 4) are mad that you are making them get off the sofa and actually do something productive. Once they repeat the request they now OWN it and are more responsible for completing the task.

    • Joe

      Tim & Beth – great practical advice on repeating what you hear or having the listener repeat what is said. I know that a lot of the Active Listening training out there stress that as part of their practice. But for some reason it never became part of my practice.

      I love it when y’all remind me of things I can go work on. Time to sharpen the saw.

  • http://higginbottom.com Paul

    seems the article has 2 aspects i’m not sure i connect. listening skills, and asking questions. as tim and beth said, asking a question to confirm mutual understanding is a great approach!

    communication fails for both talker and listener. talker may well send garbled, incomplete, or contradictory instructions, comments, and listener’s brain tries to make sense of it while listening to a racket of other thoughts at the same time!

    my approach to listening is to ‘turn down’ the racket, do less conscious thinking and focus as much as possible on just listening as well as body language, eye contact, etc.

    about asking questions, the socratic approach is certainly very useful! and in all things, the more we look at them, the more questions arise. :)

    best for everyone in 2010 !!

    • Joe

      Paul, I agree – I think I confused the listening with the questioning aspect in the post. Those really need to be two separate ideas or brought together with a better link.

      Internal logic was
      1) I want to grow
      2)Listening is an important part of growth
      3)As a leader I am always looked to for the answers
      4)In order to change that I need to ask a lot more questions.
      Oh well – I’ll need to be more careful about not representing the internal thoughts properly.

      Thanks, Paul.

  • Morey

    I started my career as a CPA… auditor to be exact. Auditor is Latin for “hearer”. We were trained to ask & listen. It’s amazing what people will say to fill silence.

    At some point after getting my MBA, I became more of a “talker” than a “hearer”. I’m not sure why… maybe because I got the idea that I needed to express my opinion to be recognized as an expert. Over time, I seemed to talk more and listen less… this was bad.

    One day, some nice person (sincerely) pointed this out to me. They also gave me mnemonic to help (I’m a simple guy, mnemonics work for me). It’s WAIT… Why Am I Talking? Ask yourself this next time you can’t wait for the other guy to stop speaking.

    I haven’t been an auditor in many years, but I’ve come full circle in a sense, at least as a listener. Once again, I’m surprised by what you can learn when you let someone else do the talking. 😉

    Great blog… Happy New Year!… Morey

    • Joe

      Great stuff, Morey. I am going to try and insert WAIT into my routine. (Many others will thank you for that).

      I think one of the reasons we start to talk more is that we get rewarded at work more by what we say than what we hear. Even though what we say often comes directly from information we heard, the reward often comes on the talking part. “Great presentation, Morey!” “Great points, Tim”.

  • http://pelion.aminus3.com/ Lia

    I loved your Blue moon post. Personally I tell myself that everyone has something interesting to say and by asking them questions I get to find that out. Also it fascinates me when people share more and more information with me! It’s like people are trusting me to share all sorts of secrets, facts or important aspects of their personality.

    It is hard when you start working on your listening! You feel kind of awkward asking questions. But I say start slowly, practice active listening: listen to what someone says, test yourself to see if you’re truly listening by repeating it back for them. Then you’ll find yourself asking questions, then things sound very interesting and then you’re asking even more questions…

    Practice practice practice! Practice with your spouse, I am sure your spouse will be the first to tell you that you’re not listening! So practice with them! Practice with your friends, you will discover that your friendships will become even stronger. Refrain from giving advice to them too soon, just ask them a lot of questions; how do they feel about something? why they think something is happening? why, why, why… what, what, what, how, how, how…

  • Joe

    I was reading a book that talked about the cultural differences in communication. Some societies are receiver centered, meaning it is the expectation that the receiver owns the responsibility for understanding what is said (Asian countries are typically this way). The US is high on the list of transmitter centered. It is believed that the talker is the one responsible for the other party’s understanding.

  • http://www.andrewfuqua.com Andrew Fuqua

    I have been told I was a good listener. I do not remember what we were talking about before that. Perception is not always reality, but it is sometimes more important. :-)

    Joking aside, I do remember that it was personal and passionate and the speaker seamed to have a great sense of relief afterward. It reinforced what I knew about the person, even if I don’t remember the details.

    I also remember enjoying the conversation. I enjoy talking to my employees. I have a 1-on-1 each day with someone. I care about them (see Karen’s post above) and what they have to say. I learn a lot about them and about the project through these talks. I relish that time. I’m prepared for it, focused on it, and it takes my mind off of the rest of the job for a moment. Therefore, I’m relaxed. This shows and it opens people up. This is self supporting: the more I do this the more I learn about them, the more I care, the more it shows.

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