The Ultimate Valentine

The Ultimate Valentine: L.I.S.T.E.N.

Listen: Six Simple Steps to Create an Unforgettable Impression On-line, On Zoom, by E-Mail, or In-Person!

By Elizabeth Page

Over 18,200 students have taken Elizabeth’s leadership courses on Udemy and she has delivered over 900 hours of live training to 45k+ professionals.

People are starving to be heard.

We are exhausted and hollowed out from the echoes of social media.

People want to be relevant and need meaningful connections.

Be that hero, that Valentine, when we …

L.I.S.T.E.N …

The echo of everyone talking, crescendos across social media channels, but is anyone listening?

Take the next few minutes to review three typical ways we listen and then try out the Six Steps to Transformational Listening.

Why aren’t we listening, given all the hours committed to meetings, online chats, messaging, and emailing? It takes time and it also takes courage.

Transparency needs courage.

Sir Winston Churchill said:

“It takes courage to stand up and be heard. And it takes more to sit down and listen.”

Are we working harder to ignore than to Listen?

Most exchanges occur like transactions at the gas pump or coffee shop. We go about our lives politely ignoring people under the cover of habitual civility that requires little to no thought and even less attention. What are we focused on? Look up from your smartphone and you’ll see people on theirs thumbing messages or flipping screens.

“Let it slide”, we say. “Everyone does it”, we reason.

Yes, we’re a civil society and yes, it’s common practice. No harm, no foul, right?

Though common, not listening, like ignoring someone, packs a punch–it’s a visceral response to a common betrayal — a breach of trust that regardless of how incidental, it’s unforgettable.

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people won’t remember what you said, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel.

The less we trust the more we socially distance for self-preservation, no less. Depleting trust also depletes performance and our ability to get stuff done through others in our families, communities, and also for work.

Ironically, we’ve never needed more trust than right now as we transition to more permanent remote work where relying on doing the right things and doing things right depends on autonomy vs. control.

Typically, listening occurs at three levels — lets call them:

  1. Crab pot — like going to the pub and listening for the specials-of-the-day,

2. Maitre d’ (waiter) — aligning what the customer wants with what’s available on the menu that satisfies them, and

3. Chef — listening to discover what wins clients over as return patrons.

1. Start with the first level–Crab Pot Listening

If you’re lucky enough to visit Maryland maybe you’ve eaten their famous blue crabs. Boating around the Chesapeake Bay when our boys were young, we learned about crab pots and chicken necks.

Think of a crab pot like a smaller version of the lobster trap–netting strung over a wooden frame with two small portals for the crab to enter–one way in and no way out. This is how we listen most often. Tell me what I need to know. Got it. Thanks for that. Move on.

This is a good strategy, given the competing demands on our time. It seems expedient to listen selectively clawing at what’s relevant, ignoring what’s not, then scuttling towards the next distraction and avoiding getting caught in the crab pot. But we all get caught

Crab-pot listening (used to collect data):

· Call on people by name — let them know that in a moment you’ll come to them with a question, or that you’ll be asking volunteers for examples on audio. That heads-up brings participants back into the conversation without blind-siding them and gives them time to collect their thoughts and be prepared to add content.

· Always give people an exit and let them know they can “pass” on a question and to volunteer another participant by name from the participant list. They save face, have a little laugh, and have still participated.

· Always give people directions on how to post their answers: … on the whiteboard, … in the chat, … join us on audio. Read the chat and invite live elaboration of an interesting or dissenting idea.

· Demonstrate you’re listeing by constantly signaling you’re listening by using simple sounds, statements, and text comments, to encourage the speaker. For example, “It sounds like …”, It seems like …” : “Ohhh, I see, Say more? Really? Uh-huh. Right…”

· Don’t assume the speaker knows you’re listening — people seek reassurance that they are being heard and that they’re not muted!

· At the end of a long pause or their concluding statement, ask if there is anything else?

· Always say thank you.

The Bocconni University, School of Business in Milan, Italy, suggests thinking of your voice like fuel — turbocharge your message with energy projecting your message through the headset or earphones, pulsing across the technology, to the audience headset and break into their conscious thought for a sufficient reaction.

2.The second listening habit is the Maitre D’ or Waiter — Converting relationships into long term engagements and repeat patrons

Arriving at a restaurant for Valentine’s Day?

We might start by asking the Maitre d’ or the waiter, first for a table, next about the specials of the day, and then, a few clarifying questions. This involves limited engagement and rudimentary listening focused on consuming information. It’s is a transactional form of listening given the exchange of information. It applies at work when asking or receiving reports, briefings, and Q&As. The basic protocols of reciprocity are invoked–it's a back and forth and the early stages of dialogue.

Clarifying questions from level 1 listening can naturally transition into a deeper conversation.This is a reciprocal conversation that tends to be transactional in nature involving cause and effect and may produce better understanding or identify a disconnect. To get there from where you are, it might sound like this:

· Can you say more about that,?

· Do you have an example ?

· Could you be more specific ?

· Can you demonstrate what that would do?

· What additional detail should I know?

· What impact or outcome do you expect?

· Who, where, why, what, how, and when questions.

This is the common arena of business communications at meetings, between peers and across management levels as well as with customers. We are most comfortable with this kind of listening and engagement and it tends to come naturally.

Situational Awareness is key in this exchange because we want to put the conversation into context. This level of listening is transactional within a context. The outcome is to connect and come to an agreement — implied or explicit. Questions are focused on clarity and context. Be prepared and proactive in your use of clarifying questions.

Use Case:

Just outside of Washington, DC where I lived and worked, there’s a well-known restaurant called, The Inn of Washington. The wait staff are trained to gauge the guest’s state of mind on arrival using a 10-point scale with the goal of enhancing the guest’s experience and mood by 2 -3 points.

For example, If a table of business people arrive in good spirit having signed a contract, for example, the staff assess them at a 7 and serve with enthusiasm, providing wine, dessert menus and making suggestions to achieve at a level 10.

Another table may be negotiating a deal, with a level of professionalism and residual tension, the staff assess a level 5 at arrival and proceed to serve deferentially and discretely watching carefully and serving without interruptions so the table leaves as a 7.

Why is this restaurant filled with returning patrons? They felt “listened to.”

3: The Chef–Tactical Empathetic Listening

The third and highest form is empathetic listening.

The discipline here is to interrupt the urge or the impulse to solve the speaker’s problem. Why this impulse? For a number of reasons, but predominantly because empathetic listening requires some exposure and vulnerability for both the speaker and the listener. The discomfort may or may not be apparent however be clear that the driver of the conversation is an emotional force and motives aligned with the speakers’ values.

When we listen empathetically ask ourselves:

· What is, and what is not said?

· What are the emotions that you recognize?

· What other emotions might be covered up by the expressed emotions eg: is fear being covered up by anger, or is reluctance covering uncertainty?

· What do emotions reveal, and

· In what way can we acknowledge an individual’s emotional state without escalation and instead provide reassurance?

We might recall times when the shoe was on the other foot — when we talked about our own pent-up frustration because;

i. We wanted the other person to know what we were experiencing,

ii. to signal that our emotional state was not about them, or

iii. that we needed a sounding board.

The biggest problem is trying to help by solving the speaker’s problem.

Most often, people don’t want someone to solve their problem.

Instead, what they want is, AAA: to be Acknowledged, Appreciated, or our Advocacy without the fourth A — Advice!

3rd Type of Listening is The Chef — The Long Game

- Transformation vs. Transaction

Listen to create transformational versus transactional relationships.

Firefighting, feeding-the-beast, emergencies, and other people’s urgent priorities are as perennial as dandelions in spring. Transactional listening plucks the yellow flower off the stem and seeds thousands of other dandelions in its place. Instead, root out the weed.

Pulling weeds is transactional. Rooting out the weeds is transformational.

To paraphrase Krista Tippet, an NPR and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, she uses listening like a garden trowel to weed out her own assumptions so the speaker can bloom.

So let’s switch to cultivating our garden, which includes tending to our relationships and strategically reading the room.

The challenge is to consider what’s required to create transformational relationships in the steady stream of transactional business requirements.

Transformational relationships are based on your commitment to long-term engagements that go beyond the tasks by focusing on the whole person.

Empathetic listening is a revelatory process for the speaker and the listener. It demands vulnerability and reciprocity–in other words–courage.

This listening practice implies that the speaker has captured our attention.

We hear the speaker’s words, emotions, and pauses.

Listening empathetically demands the concentration of a poker champion deciphering “tells” through tics, nerves, or coded body language and tone that unlocks the secret behind the words.

Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, teaches tactical empathy and has used it to free hostages and save lives.

He labels the kidnapper’s emotions to engage them. One such bank robbery involved several customers trapped inside a bank along with the armed robbers. Voss negotiated for hours with the men who revealed that they didn’t plan on taking hostages, that they feared for the worst if they surrendered, and that they hadn’t planned on hurting anyone that day.

Voss mirrored the hostage takers’ reality demonstrating that he heard precisely that no one planned to take hostages, then labeled their emotion of fear of being killed if they give up. Voss promised that when the hostages were freed unharmed, everyone would be safe, which led to the peaceful surrender of the bank robbers.

Tactical empathy is a practice that can be learned by anyone.

A true story reported by a local newspaper told of a bank teller serving typical customers until the moment one pushed a note towards her while keeping the other hand in his pocket masquerading as a gun. The note said that this was a bank robbery and demanded $2k placed in the bag, fast!

The teller read the note again, then asked, “Sir, what do you need $2k for?

Was it her empathetic tone, was it her careful reading of the stick-up note? He told how he had fallen on hard times, that he couldn’t pay the mortgage, and by defaulting that day he would lose the family home.”

“Sir,” she said, “you didn’t come here to rob the bank. You came here for a loan, and we can help you with that.” And that is how the bank robbery ended according to the local paper.

This applies to listening at work every day. When its appropriate, hear what your teams, peers, stakeholders are saying and put all your unfractured attention on them and if you do, trust and influence will bloom.

Listening is transformative because people are rarely heard or appreciated as originals instead of facsimiles based on our job titles, description or affiliations, rather than the real us behind the persona.

So on Valentine’s Day let’s practice our renewed Love to Listen in 6 Steps: L.I.S.T.E.N.

L: Lens–put on a fresh pair of glasses–Clark Kent/Superman wore glasses that transformed his superman identity into “everyman”.

Change our lenses to “see” others from their point of view — our own identity isn’t being challenged.

I: Identify that person’s values and motives behind the emotional “tells” leaking into the conversation through tone of voice, body language, and vocabulary.

S: Suspend judgment: Use the garden trowel method of uprooting your assumptions, interrupt your cognitive biases, and resist emotional triggers preventing you from listening.

T: Transform the relationship versus transacting or exchanging information. Make an investment in that other person. You are either spending or investing time in lost opportunity cost by faking listening or by authentically listening.

E: Empathy — this is the secret of success and the heart of all leadership, which resides in mirroring the other person’s words and labelling the underlying emotion.

N: Negotiate — this is a commitment to dialogue based on a mental model of abundance versus scarcity that results in restating common ground, discovering options and alternatives and then advancing the agenda and the relationship forward.

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