What do you listen for?

For Your Interest – October 2014

Of all the differentiators there are with respect to success as a leader – and as a human being for that matter – one of the biggest is how people listen. So in this month’s newsletter, I'll be digging into what that means and what I think it takes to become a more effective, and more powerful, listener.

Levels of Listening

When I listen for how people listen, there are usually four distinct ways: 
  1. They DON'T Listen! (They PRETEND to Listen)
    This is, by far, the most typical way that people listen: poorly. Oh, they want us to think that they're listening to us, but they're really not. Instead, they're thinking about whatever they're thinking about, planning whatever they're planning, checking their email or text messages or Facebook while, all the while, pretending to be hearing what we're saying. In fairness, I'm not convinced they're trying to be disrespectful. For that to happen they'd need to be listening to themselves, which I'm not sure they're really doing, either. Nevertheless, should you find yourself with someone who's seemingly pretending to listen, try this: Stop talking...and see how long it takes them to notice! 
  2. They Round DOWN
    This is the next most popular way to listen and it works like this: Before you're even done with what you're saying, they've already decided not only THAT you're wrong, but have already started telling you WHY you're wrong! It doesn't matter if what you've said was really insightful; they were biased to discount it from the start. So when they do, it should come as no surprise. 
  3. They Round UP
    For those of you who are already in a committed personal relationship, remember when you first met your partner? Remember how it really didn't matter how silly or foolish (or wrong) s/he was about something? Everything and anything s/he said was simply adorable, right?! That's what 'rounding UP' is like – listening for the underlying spirit of what someone is saying, how it makes sense, regardless of how it was said. When we give someone the 'benefit of the doubt,' and listen for how the person might be right, we're rounding UP. When we hear a BIGGER POINT in their message, we're rounding UP.  
  4. They Round OUT
    Rounding OUT is listening for the DEEPER INSIGHT in someone's words, listening for (and hearing) whatever  particularly beneficial personal realization is available for you in whatever they just said. 
Most people DON'T listen, only PRETEND to listen, or round DOWN; but the real power and influence comes from rounding UP and OUT. Which begs the question: What kind of listening do you do?!

How to Round UP and OUT

For those of you who might recognize yourself in the lesser choices listed above – and want to upgrade upgrade your listening, ASAP – here's a three-step process to help you do precisely that:
  • Step One – Listen to the WORDS
  • Step Two – Listen for the BIGGER POINT (round it UP)
  • Step Three – Listen for the DEEPER MEANING (round it OUT)
Some examples might help:
  • Scenario #1: I had just been promoted to my first job as a supervisor and was feeling pretty good about myself and my upside potential. Unfortunately, I didn't get along very well with my new boss – I thought he was always nitpicking and micromanaging me, and didn't like it (or him) one, single, bit. So, one day, when he told me my desk was a mess and that I should clean it up, my first reaction was to NOT listen to him. When he noted my still-messy desk in my mid-year performance review, I PRETENDED to listen. But by time it showed up in my year-end review, I was in full round DOWN mode! (That my desk really WAS a mess didn't really matter to me – I didn't like his calling me out on it, therefore, him doing so was just another example of his nitpicking, micromanaging, self, in action.) 
    • Listening to the WORDS –  "Your desk is a mess and needs to be cleaned up," he said.
    • Listening for the BIGGER POINT (round it UP) – It took some time, but what I ultimately came to realize was that he was trying to make a reasonable, and actually quite helpful, point: It doesn't matter how smart or capable or high-potential you are, you can't be truly successful if you're disorganized.
    • Listening for the DEEPER MEANING (round it OUT) – The truth I needed to face was that I was, indeed, far more disorganized that I wanted to admit; far more disorganized than I even realized; and if I wanted to be truly successful, it was high time I faced that challenge of getting more organized on my desk, and in how I worked.
  • Scenario #2: So many years later, in a different job at a different company, I had just been promoted to department head. I did all the right things: built relations up, down, and across the organization; aimed for, and achieved, several meaningful early victories; put in place several process and operational improvements, etc. So I was feeling pretty good going into my first year-end performance review. But my boss was concerned that  certain assignments were taking longer to complete than they should; that I wasn't holding people as accountable as I should; that I wasn't facing my challenges, head-on. Grrrr. 
    • Listening to the WORDS – "You've got to get things done faster; hit them head-on," he said.
    • Listening for the BIGGER POINT (round it UP) – As a boss, it was MY job to control the tempo with which my staff and vendor contacts worked their assignments. If I wanted them to respond with greater urgency, it was MY job to instill that expectation and requirement and hold them respectfully, but unfailingly, accountable for their actions and inactions.
    • Listening for the DEEPER MEANING (round it OUT) – The truth I needed to face was that I was, indeed, far less 'courageous' than I had wanted to admit; that up to this point in my career, I had relied on my 'fearlessness' to get things done; but it was now high time that I faced the challenge of not letting my fears dilute the impact of the work I was paid to do.

Your turn

So now it's your turn. Pick some feedback you've recently received that you didn't particularly care for. Or something that someone said that you didn't particularly agree with. Walk through the process of rounding UP – by listening for the BIGGER POINT – and rounding OUT – by listening for the DEEPER MEANING. If you stay with it long enough, I am fully confident that the insights you discover about yourself will be well worth it.

P.S. Happy Halloween!

P.P.S. If you haven't already, be sure to read more about Executive Courage in the LeadershipTraction website.

- bz
Barry Zweibel | 847-291-9735
LeadershipTraction® | www.ldrtr.com
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