There are classes on public speaking but few, if any, on listening.

I recently kicked myself up to “Executive Chair” of my almost 500 person company. My vision is in the coming years for the Senior Executive Team to take over the job of leading and growing the company and that the company become self-sustaining, at some point capable of prospering without my direct involvement. This requires that I articulate the direction, the goals and then step back and allow others to sail the ship. Thus I now “do” very little, my job is much, much more to help others do.

This is a challenge! All my life I’ve been a doer, a problem solver, a passionate idea guy. Now, more than ever before, my job is to listen. A 2011 study in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes showed that the more powerful the person, the more likely they were to dismiss advice. In the words of Julian Treasure, an expert on conscious listening, there is a tendency to listen from “a kind of concrete bunker… built many years ago” of which we are not even conscious. Indeed, most of what passes for listening is really just waiting for a break to jump in with our own 2 cents worth. We are not listening, we are formulating our reply.

Listen 80, talk 20 is a terrific ratio to keep in mind. No one ever learned anything while they were talking. “Listen to Learn”, to grow, to bond, to establish rapport. If your mind is racing ahead of the speaker, try focusing on their tone, their facial expression, body language and posture; go deeper, attempt to sense any deeper intent, emotion, purpose or meta message behind the words being spoken. Or meditate! Calm your mind, stay fully in the present moment. What is your purpose?

Closing Quotes:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950, 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature

“To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.”  – Igor Stravinsky 

“There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for.” James Nathan Miller   

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” – M. Scott Peck, 1936-2005, The Road Less Traveled