Connective Listening is Key

January 28, 2019

At the time of this writing, the US government has been temporarily reopened after being shut down for the longest stretch in history. One reason for being closed so long is due to our elected representatives’ inability to listen effectively to each other. Leaders in politics and business who want to communicate more effectively require connective listening.

First an example of poor communication:

  • Donnie: I want a ball and if I don’t get it, you can’t open the game.
  • Nancy: We’ll talk about the ball after we open the game.
  • Donnie: No ball. No game.
  • Nancy: Game first. Then we’ll talk about the ball.

Clearly, there’s no effective listening in this exchange. Each side is firm in his and her position, which only prevents understanding and connection.

But let’s first make a distinction between listening and hearing. While hearing is the act of perceiving a sound by ear and essentially a passive activity, listening is the act of trying to understand the other person’s point of view and therefore much more active. In fact, passive listening is not listening at all.

Listening is a conscious choice that requires you have purpose in your heart and an interest in your brain. Listening requires focused attention.

In their book “Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In,” authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen call connective listening the type all speakers crave. It is about listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker AND strengthen the connection. Connective listening is listening from their there instead of your here. It means listening without an agenda that is focused entirely on responding or helping.

To gain influence and persuade others requires that you practice connective listening because this is where you are best able to understand the other’s perspective, so they feel heard, and stay connected so they feel respected while negotiating.

Here’s an example of connective listening in communication:

  • Donnie: I want a ball and if I don’t get it, you can’t open the game.
  • Nancy: Tell me more about why you want the ball.
  • Donnie: Well, I told everyone I’d get the ball and it’s important to me.
  • Nancy: I hear you. The ball is important to you and you told people you’d get the ball. I understand and I appreciate you telling me this. Can you tell me why it’s important you get the ball before we open the game?
  • Donnie: Uh. Because I don’t think you’ll give me the ball if we open the game first.
  • Nancy: I can’t promise you will get the ball, but if we don’t open the game, no one can play. You want everyone to play, don’t you?
  • Donnie: Yeah. But I want the ball.
  • Nancy: I understand you want the ball, but everyone wants to play the game and you’re not letting anyone play. Once we open the game, everyone gets to play and then we can talk about the ball. Don’t you think this is in the best interest of everyone?

Okay, so I know this probably won’t entirely resolve the issue of the ball, but it does provide an opening for respectful dialogue to continue and end a stalemate. If one person can seek to actively listen for understanding while remaining connected, it can lead to better communication.

“The purest form of listening is to listen without memory or desire,” said psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. “When you listen with memory, you have an old agenda. When you listen with desire, you have a new agenda that you’re going to plug into the other person.”

Though it’s hard to conceive of US politicians listening without memory or desire as long as lobbyists and special interests have such influence over them, I am hopeful that progress can be made—both in politics and business. Connective listening is key.

photo credit: verchmarco <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/30882037817″>Kinder spielen mit einem Fußball – Modelfiguren</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Leader as Listener

June 21, 2017

Boilerplate copy on resumes typically include the phrase “excellent communication skills.” But how many people really have them?

Communication is so often thought of as speaking and writing well. While these are certainly important, it is not only the clear dissemination of thoughts and ideas, but also the receptivity and complete understanding of other people’s thoughts and ideas.

Excellent communication skills include the ability to listen really well, and leaders need to do this is order to be successful.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of connective listening. In their book Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen describe this as listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker and strengthen the connection. Connective listening is about listening from their there instead of your here.

Listening is a lot more than hearing the words that are spoken. Body language, tone of voice, inflection and other factors can either amplify, distract or totally contradict the words that are spoken and this needs to be incorporated into effective listening. To become an excellent listener means being able to go to different levels in order to fully understand.

In their book Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence, authors Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins write that in order to improve the ability to listen and engage, a leader needs to master three levels of listening: surface, issues-based and emotions-based.

Level One: Surface Listening

This is listening to hear what is actually being said and taking the words at face value. You do this by making eye contact, nodding your head, and repeating back what you hear. The speaker is then confident that you are following along and engaged in a way that enables the effective transfer of thoughts and ideas.

Level Two: Issues-based Listening

This is the ability to focus intentionally on what really matters. Rather than listening only to the basic facts, you are looking for the underlying message. Reading between the lines, so to speak. This may require asking clarifying questions to get the speaker to expand his or her thinking and say more. The underlying issues are what you are seeking to fully understand.

Level Three: Emotions-based Listening

This is the deepest level of listening that enables you to uncover the real agenda at play. Leaders who listen at this level are able to sense the underlying emotions and motivation behind the issues. They listen to the nonverbal cues, such as the speaker’s body language, tone of voice, and overall mood. You discover the assumptions the speaker is making. Once you understand what’s going on under the surface, you are then able to name and acknowledge it. You can paraphrase what you hear and perhaps add what you sense the speaker is feeling as well. This type of listening requires you to be objective, open and curious. It takes a great deal of effort to be this present. And it takes the courage to name and say aloud the emotions being felt.

Each of these levels is essential for leaders to be effective listeners. The important thing is to practice each so that you can deploy the appropriate level when the situation requires it.

With social media’s focus on “selfies,” “likes” and “followers,” your leadership will stand out if you are able to make the most of interpersonal one-on-one, real-time communications. This means truly engaging by listening more effectively using these three levels.

Listening Your Way to Success

May 31, 2016

How often do you struggle to get people to buy what you’re selling?

I’m not suggesting you are a sales person, per se. However, all of us are selling something whether it’s seeking the boss’s permission to proceed on a project, persuading a co-worker to do something in a particular way, convincing your spouse to vacation in a certain location, or cajoling the kids to do their homework and clean their rooms.

This form of persuasion takes place in each of our lives every single day, and some of us are more successful at it than others.

In this age of message bombardment, it’s important to recognize that people selectively tune out the noise in order to hear what’s important to them. Because they are inundated with both wanted and unwanted to information, they fortify themselves to listen selectively.

So given this resistance, how do you get your message across?

Persuasion Cycle

In Mark Goulston’s book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, he explains the importance of successful communication through the Persuasion Cycle, illustrated above. Goulston says all persuasion moves through the steps of this cycle and therefore it’s important to to speak to people in a manner that moves them from:

  • Resisting to Listening
  • Listening to Considering
  • Considering to Willing to Do
  • Willing to Do to Doing
  • Doing to Glad They Did and Continue Doing

The secret to getting through to anyone is by having them buy in. This occurs only when you are able to get people to stop “resisting” to “listening” to “considering” what you are saying.

“Ironically, the key to gaining ‘buy-in’ and then moving people through the rest of the cycle is not what you tell them, but what you get them to tell you—and what happens in their minds in the process,” says Goulston.

As the title to his book implies, listening is a huge part of successfully persuading others. And effective listening requires seeking to understand before being understood as Stephen R. Covey described in his seminal book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

It also requires hearing what is unspoken yet conveyed through tone of voice, eye contact and other body language. This requires you to be curious, and using all of your senses to truly tune into the other person.

Listen Better by Asking Right Questions

Getting people to reveal their resistance involves not only listening, but asking the right questions. No matter how many facts and details you share about your perspective, until you ask the right questions to uncover resistance you will fall on deaf ears. And learning to ask good questions is perhaps the most important leadership tool you can master.

You can also help persuade others by exercising your empathy muscle to make the other person feel heard. The gift of being heard is all too rare and goes a long way towards successfully connecting with other people. When they feel heard, they are much more willing to open up and reveal what’s most important to them.

Though most of us will say we are good listeners, the reality is we are not. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will admit that instead of actively listening, we are distracted or thinking about what to say next. This is counterproductive to moving through the Persuasion Cycle.

If you really want to enhance your ability to persuade others to buy what you’re selling, follow the steps in the Persuasion Cycle and improve your ability to truly listen.

Listening Into Others to Gain Influence

January 30, 2013

No matter what line of work you are in, you are likely seeking ways to be more productive and successful. And, regardless of the profession, how effective you interact with and influence other people can greatly determine your fate.

That’s because it is all about relationship, and relationships should always be about the long term.

We now live in a world that no longer tolerates disconnected forms of influence. Spam filters help block emails that are unrelated to our wants and needs. The stereotypical used car salesman is seen as merely comical and not taken seriously by anyone. Shotgun approaches to marketing are considered a waste of money.

Social networking, among other things, seeks ways to connect people and then influence them based on their connectedness. This connectedness means having your virtual friends’ influence what you do, where and when you do it, and especially how you spend your money.

Whether this is good or bad is not my concern. What I am interested in is how important this connectedness is with regard to our ability to influence others.

In a new book titled, “Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In,” authors Mark Goulston and John Ullmen discuss how, in this post-pushing and post-selling world, influence should no longer be seen as something you do to someone else to get what you want.

Real influence isn’t even about what you want. Instead it’s about forging strong connections by focusing on other people’s viewpoints and giving something away before asking for anything in return. And always seeking win-win outcomes.

This seems to be a new paradigm that’s sustainable and good for everyone.

Goulston and Ullmen offer many tactics to learn how to do this, but the one I think most important—regardless of whether you’re trying to influence someone or not—is by improving your ability to listen to others. Easier said than done.

According to the authors, there are four levels of listening:

  1. Avoidance Listening – Listening Over
    This type of listening is when you may be nodding or even saying “Uh huh,” but you’re not really paying attention. Your mind is elsewhere and the other person is feeling ignored despite your best efforts at appearing to be listening.
  2. Defensive Listening – Listening At
    When you listen defensively you are taking things personally and are too quick to react. You listen at others by taking issue with everything they say without taking the time to consider what is being said.
  3. Problem Solving Listening – Listening To
    Listening in this way is about getting something accomplished, which is a perfectly valid way to listen when the situation demands it. However, when the subject is especially complex or emotionally charged, this can leave far too much room for misunderstanding. You are separating the subject from the speaker and losing that perspective, which is so important to consider.
  4. Connective Listening – Listening Into
    This is the type of listening all speakers crave. It is about listening with the intention to fully understand the speaker and also strengthen the connection. Connective listening is listening from their there instead of your here. It means listening without an agenda focused entirely on responding or helping.

I can think of many examples when I engage in the first three levels of listening. The first two I am not proud of and still struggle to avoid. Problem solving listening I do perhaps most often because I am so anxious to be productive and get something done.

But I know that when I listen in a connective manner is when I truly understand what is being said. I am giving my full attention and listening not only with my ears, but with my eyes, my heart and my body. I am also strengthening the relationship because I can feel the connection being forged.

To gain influence requires a continual focus on the long term, on the relationship, and on giving away something first. More often than not, this begins with your ability to engage in connective listening so you can truly understand their perspective and needs.

Influence should no longer begin with a self-centered perspective focusing only on the immediate opportunity. Instead, look at gaining influence in a positive and authentic manner that strengthens your connections with others for the long term.