For 2 or 3 decades in a row, you have probably heard this consistent feedback from your family, your boss, peers and report directs…the #1 leadership development goal across industries and geographies is to be a better listener.
We can clearly articulate our challenge:
“I’m a poor listener; I don’t ask enough questions; I talk over people in meetings; I interrupt and don’t really listen to what other people are saying; I like to move quickly and sometimes I don’t value other people’s input; I’m better at just telling people what to do.”
We want to be better listeners because we are told that at our current level of listening A) we lack leadership presence…we have some presence, but not the kind of leadership presence that “changes family trees” — we aspire to that kind of Covey-like presence; B) we miss out on many of the available ideas and contributing intelligences (right under our noses)— we all aspire to be more innovative and collaborative; C) we create some unintended, counterproductive relational norms with the individuals that we care about and many of those norms contradict the adaptive culture we say we want — we aspire to create a more positive ripple effect.
We can clearly articulate the solution:
“I need to stop talking; ask more questions; listen”
And yet we make little progress. The feedback continues year after year because every day, we continue to crow like a rooster. We crow and we crow and we crow and we crow. As if our brain was just as uncontrollable as the Gallus gallus domesticus brain. The chicken/rooster brain is tiny compared to our species and they have no pre frontal cortex (so we’re not surprised that they can’t stop crowing). However, crowing (not listening) is not an irresistible impulse for our species. We can choose to focus our attention and thoughts wherever we want — the rooster can’t. We aren’t zombie roosters.
WE DON’T HAVE TO WAKE UP AND CROW EVERYDAY
Our species is aware that we have options. We are aware that still, we choose to crow. We know what to do — what’s missing? What might help us close our knowing-doing gap? What might help us temporarily turn off “I want to look good” (the knower mindset) & temporarily turn on “I want to listen” (the learner mindset)?
Like most germaphobic/introverts, I don’t enjoy being around a lot of people. But I do like being around “certain” people. I get excited when I hear they are going to be where I’m going to be (e.g., the office, the party, the meeting, the gym, the dinner, the zoom call). In my experience, these particular people all have one thing in common — they seem to be really curious about me, my work, my ideas, my thoughts, my opinions, my experience, my goals, my life, etc. That one thing in common, is amazing to me because I’m boring (AF).
And yet, they are so curious — they ask me so many questions — questions that nobody else asks me. All of a sudden I’m not so boring. I feel connected, seen, heard, valued, alive. I might even be a little interesting afterall — right? It’s possible. QUESTION: Why else would they be so interested? ANSWER 1: Maybe they are blessed with some special listening muscles, some leadership presence & charisma and they really do care about everyone they meet.
ANSWER 2: MAYBE THEY ARE “HIGH”
I don’t smoke anything, but my friends who do are great at asking questions. It is impressive and it’s pretty consistent. The bros that hit the most home runs in MLB — do PEDs and the bros who consistently ask me the best questions — they smoke weed. They smoke marijuana and their questions + the quality of their attention make me feel like I matter and make me feel kind of good about myself — its a nice little boost. I found this article showing that I’m not the only one noticing this: “Why does weed make me wonder about so many things and ask so many questions?”
Perhaps the external impact of their curiosity is a felt sense of “interest”. What’s underneath the potsmoker & non-potsmoker curiosity alike, is humility — the renewable energy of temporarily not knowing. Their humility, powers their curiosity and their curiosity, powers their creativity. When their creativity is awakened, they treasure hunt with questions & they listen — that’s when we are all invited into a place of high-quality reflection and learning which is uplifting and almost always beneficial.
WE DON’T NEED PEDS TO BE BETTER LISTENERS
Here are three simple-to-use practices (you can use them many-times-a-day) to jump start your own renewable energy source and help you be a better listener.
- check-ins/check-outs — the simplest application of active listening — it can take 2 seconds/person or 2 minutes/person at the start of a meeting or end of a meeting …you decide the check-in/out question and length of time you want to listen (and this also invites others to listen)
- council mode — think of this as an extended “check-in” — use it anytime you want to find out what’s on other people’s minds about a specific topic — anytime you want others to really feel heard …it is an amazing antidote to arguing, cross-talk and jockeying for airtime — give everyone at the table, including the introverts, equal airtime (again you decide when it would be useful and how long everyone gets to speak — you can even add on more rounds when you see how valuable the listening really is)
- active listening — the ultimate 10–30minutes of quality time; one-on-one; don’t worry about asking the perfect open ended question — pay more attention to the quality of your attention when you are listening (your learner mindset is the only psycho-active ingredient you need); no autobiographical listening —use this anytime you want to BE a better listener, like when you think it matters — drop into this practice & focus on someone besides yourself for 10–30 minutes — you can be autobiographical and crow all you want to AFTER the 10–30 mins is over.
Our default instinct is to crow. Our saving grace is to notice that & not to.