For leaders, listening to connect is the most powerful tool for activating the part of our brains that enables us to grow into the next iteration of who we will become.
While we often think of listening as a process for being informed, or a step in the process of influencing others, listening to connect is actually different. By joining Listening and Connecting, we change the focus of listening from listening for information or to confirm what we already know, to the most powerful way to relate to others and to bring about clarity and understanding at a deep level which has the incredible power to change the future and influence both personal and interpersonal and business transformation.
The Power of Listening to Connect
I gained new insights about the Power of Listening to Connect about three years ago when I presented a global webinar based on my – then – new book Conversational Intelligence®. After the webinar, I received an email from an Australian woman who attended the webinar. She was a Harvard graduate, a powerful lawyer, and a coach. She asked to speak with me on the phone. She had listened to my webinar seeking insights and help about something very personal to her: her daughter. We talked for 10 minutes about her 12-year-old daughter who, as this mother noted, had not communicated well for years. The doctors didn’t know why. The doctors suggested she move to a farm that would allow her to work with sheep and horses. Her daughter was healthy but appeared slow to process and was hesitant to engage. This condition caused her mother great concern, frustration, confusion and even fear.
After the woman spoke non-stop for 5 minutes, I asked her for permission to share what I thought was happening with her daughter. Praying for courage to coach in the moment, knowing I could be off track, I said, “I’d like to give you some feedback as I am talking with you. My instincts tell me that you are a very brilliant woman, you have confidence, your voice is loud, and you are opinionated. My gut is telling me that you are not listening to your daughter’s point of view. Her pattern of engagement is being dramatically influenced by you and your conversational energy, and your daughter may be locked into a pattern that is not healthy for her.
Most of all, your daughter is having trouble reaching out and connecting to others. When you were communicated with me I was feeling there was no ‘breathing space, or thinking space.’ I am feeling you are filling the conversational space with your energy and that is closing down the space for your daughter. Children learn so much from their conversations with their parents. As children, we build our identity around our relationships with our parents. Your daughter wants to express herself to you, but she is unable to connect with you in a healthy way. You come across so strong and it may feel like “power-over her.”
Become an ExperiMentor: The Big Conversational Intelligence Experiment
Her power-over ‘interaction dynamic’ with her daughter was strongly impacting her child, and neither of them knew it. So, I asked her if she was willing to try an experiment. I suggested she change the interaction dynamics with her daughter by listening to connect – not listening to judge or reject. I explained “Listening to connect is life changing and when you also shift to asking questions for which you don’t have answers,”, this can have the power to shift the chemistry in her brain, and yours. Also, listen to your daughter to create the space for her to speak. Don’t judge her or yourself. Even if these thoughts are in your mind, she can feel them. Receive her, and discover who she might become, not who she was or is.”
“After you try this experiment, call me” I said.
The next day I got a call – with news I didn’t anticipate, yet hoped for.
“This was the best conversation I’ve ever had with my daughter,” she said. “I can’t believe it. She seems like a different child.”
The story doesn’t end here. A few months later, I received a call and then a visit from the woman, her daughter, and husband. We talked for hours. When I saw them interact in person, I learned the key to all the work I had been doing for decades – from a different vantage point.
Listening to Connect is the most powerful catalyst for growth. When we listen to connect, we create space for others to show up, grow up, and become someone new; to have a way to talk about what is really going on inside. When we create space for others to find the words to translate what is going on inside of them at a ‘chemical level’ to find the right words to ‘share’ what they are feeling or thinking about – this is affirming and powerful – finding our voice is vital for health.
Alternatively, when we listen to judge or confirm what we know, we impose on others a label through which we see them and interact with them every day. When we listen to judge, we impose our beliefs about them and shape them into the person we think we are seeing or we want to see – and often we limit their power and potential. They become a diminished version of themselves. When we listen to connect – we allow their aspirational self to emerge – the self that wants to grow. We think out loud with them, co-create with them, and share their dreams with them – that is healthy. Yet we often take away that space with our need to be right.
It’s now a few years later and I had a chance to visit Australia and meet with the whole family. It was extraordinary to see my colleague and her family, most of all her daughter, who is thriving. She is in a wonderful private school and they are cultivating her brilliance. She was such a deep thinker and incredibly aware of so much it was ‘hard to put words to her thoughts’ – difficult to share them. She is healthy, going around the globe working on some big projects with the UN – she has great presence and an incredible future. Changing the conversational space around her changed her life!
What Drives Your Listening Shapes Your World and your Future
The listening mind is never blank or impartial. Our listening is influenced by events, relationships, experiences, history and feelings in the moment. As objective as we would like to be in our listening, we are subject to the effects of our physical and emotional states. Being tired, angry, elated or stressed predisposes us to attend selectively to what we hear. Recall a recent situation when you were a listener. Did you listen to facts or to specific words? Did you paraphrase these words in your mind? Did this lead to new impressions? Were you affected by the speaker’s voice, dress, demeanor, mood, or attitude? Were you evaluating the speaker’s effectiveness or importance? Where you judging his or her ideas? Or, were you so preoccupied that you didn’t listen at all?
Since we can’t attend to everything we hear, we listen selectively. But what guides our listening? Why do people who hear the same speech often walk away with different impressions? Obviously, they didn’t “hear” the same thing.
We hear one-sixth as fast as we think, and so the mind has the time to construct questions, inferences, and associations. Do we use this time wisely? Do we recognize that ineffective listening is a management and a leadership problem?
Four Listening Behaviors
Consider these four types of common listening behavior:
1. Noise-in-the-attic listening. To project that we are good listeners, we might sit silently while others talk. Outwardly, we appear to be listening. Inwardly, however, we may be listening to the noise in the attic—disengaged from the speaker’s ideas and involved in our own mental processes. Such listening tends to develop from childhood experiences. As youngsters, we may have heard: “Don’t talk while I’m speaking!” “Don’t ask so many questions!” “Why? Because I said so!” Conditioned by these warnings, many of us turn off our minds and habits of inquiry. Instead of clarifying the speaker’s intent, we are preoccupied with our internalizations – we are often talking to ourselves about how we are feeling in the moment: “Who does she think she is?” “I can do his job better than he can.” Or, we may find ourselves planning a trip, remembering a pleasant experience, or completing a thought—returning from time to time to listen to what is being said. Sound familiar?
2. Face-value listening. When we think we are hearing facts, the words we are hearing are often interpretations. In face-value listening, the listener isn’t mentally checking back into the real world to assess whether the words explain what they purport to explain. Words are heard more for their literal meanings, not as tools for understanding. This explains why leaders, managers, and staff can differ dramatically in their perceptions. Children use face value listening since their experiences are so limited. Our experiences should add depth to our listening.
3. Position listening. There are two types of position listening. The first is to listen to how the conversation impacts your ‘position and role in the company.’ In business, people tend to more frequently engage in position listening when they seek clues to how their job performance is being perceived. For example, a manager might listen to her president’s annual report to determine whether her division will be growing. What she hears in that conversation could easily impact her performance as well as her relationships with co-workers. She will listen to immediate superiors to determine her role. Obviously, position listening can lead to faulty assumptions and destroy the morale of a high-performing team.
Position listening has another meaning. That is when you have a strong position about something – when you have taken a strong position. When you do, you start to listen to ensure your position is being expressed and appreciated. So, you listen to see opportunities to confirm and strongly affirm your position, or you look to see if the other person is supporting and affirming your position. When this happens, you appear ‘Addicted to Being Right.’
4. Listening to connect. How we listen impacts our performance and all we do. Listening is not an end in itself but part of a dynamic process between people that creates space for growth and engagement, for sharing and discovering, and for enabling new ideas, thoughts and wisdom to emerge. Listening to connect quells our lower brain, which seeks to be right or judge others – and creates space for our spirit and energy to emerge.
Listening to Connect is the most powerful framework of Conversational Intelligence. People thrive on connection and affirmation, not criticism and judgment. When we listen to connect we create a platform for peering into each other’s minds and birthing our next-generation thinking, enabling us to set more helpful, meaningful, and satisfying objectives for the future. When we adopt the framework of listening to connect, we improve our ability to communicate, make better decisions and become better people and leaders as we engage others more deeply in our conversations.
Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 5 best-selling business books, including her newest Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013) Visit www.conversationalingelligence.com; www.creatingwe.com; email@example.com or call 212-307-4386.
~ Thomas Jefferson