Tag Archives: listening

Listen, with Respect – and Don’t Forget Empathy

 “To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more that just their ideas get heard.  It’s a sign of respect.  It makes people feel valued.”  (Deborah Tannen).
Listening is an essential and underutilized service behavior…  Every day you have the opportunity to strengthen your relationships with staff members and customers by listening to them and helping them see the power that comes from “knowing” their customer.   
Joseph Michelli, Prescription for Excellence


It starts here – with listening.  All customer service, all business interaction, requires the attention given by you to the person on the other end of the interaction.  And that starts with listening.

And there are some very physical aspects of listening.  For example, where are you pointing your face, especially your eyeballs.  I use the word “eyeballs” on purpose.  The words “eye contact” seem to no longer be strong enough.  So how about this:  “eyeball to eyeball contact.” 

So, if you point your eyeballs at the eyeballs of the other person, you have a much better chance of actually listening to them.  Here are some places to not point your eyeballs when you should be listening to a person:

At your iPhone
At your computer
At someone else walking by
At a book or a magazine

Or anywhere else – except the person you are listening to…

And then, to genuinely listen, when the other person is talking, you actually listen to what he/she says, both the words and the body language.  You do not take the time while someone else is talking to “figure out what you are going to say next.”  You listen to the other person, and then, after a pause, it is your turn to speak.  You pay attention to that other person, and then you respond to that person.

Listening may be the ultimate sign of respect.  And everything else flows from good listening moments.

(And, remember – it might be even more valuable to remember to listen with “empathy”).

When the Person at the Top is a Jerk – a lesson from Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night (Casey Learns the Names)

Honored and not diminished.  That’s how we all want to feel.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others


I have probably presented my synopsis of Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner more than any other book synopsis.  (I presented this again at a conference this week).  It is the “perfect book,” the best book I have read for building people, for knowing what to do to help people get better at their work.  The subtitle says it well Encouraging the Heart:  A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others.

There is so much great value in the book, but here is one point that is crystal clear, and critically important — a leader has to notice, to pay attention, to give credit, in order to successfully and effectively encourage others.

Recently, I thought of a scene from one of my all-time favorite tv shows, Sports Night, that reinforces a critical lesson from this book.  It was the first television show created by academy award winner Aaron Sorkin (he later created The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He won his academy award for The Social Network).  Many still believe that Sports Night was his greatest work.

One of the characters is Casey McCall (Peter Krause), something of a self-absorbed jerk…  In this particular clip, you can see his flaws – flaws close to deadly for a man in such a top position on a team:

1)    He is totally self-centered.

2)    He is oblivious – oblivious to practically all other folks around him  He does not see their value; he does not acknowledge their gifts or skills; he does not share the credit.(in fact, he does not give the credit where the credit belongs).  In fact, he simply does not see them.

3)    And he is “deaf” – he will not listen, and seemingly can not hear.

So how do you solve a problem like Casey?  You create a “stasis moment” – you bring him to a standstill, a moment when he is slapped in the face with the reality of his own self-centeredness.

Enter the brave, brilliant, Monica (Janel Moloney).  She confronts Casey in an assertive, yet humble, moment as she acts as a champion of others — teaching him a valuable lesson, in just the right way.

If you lead a team, or serve as a leader of manager, this is a great video excerpt to watch.  A clip is worth a few thousand words.  Take a look.  (it is just over 6 and a half minutes.  It is worth the look).

• here’s the key moment, from the script (it’s from a truly wonderful episode, The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee):

My name’s Monica. I’m the assistant
wardrobe supervisor for Sports Night
as well as two other shows here at
CSC. I think you hurt the feelings of
the woman I work for. Her name is
Maureen and she’s been working here
since the day you started.

I know Maureen.

Can I ask you another question?

I’m sorry I didn’t know your name.

what color this is?

It’s grey.

It’s called gun metal. Grey has more
ivory in it, gun metal has more blue.
Can you tell me which of these shirts
you should wear it with?

I don’t know.

No you don’t. There’s no reason why
you should. You’re not supposed to
know what shirt goes with what suit or
how a color in a necktie can pick up
your eyes. You’re not expected to know
what’s going to clash with what Dan’s
wearing or what pattern’s gonna bleed
when Dave changes the lighting. Mr.
McCall, you get so much attention and
so much praise for what you actually
do, and all of it’s deserved. When you
go on a talk-show and get complimented
on something you didn’t, how hard
would it be to say “That’s not me.
That’s a woman named Maureen who’s
been working for us since the first
day. It’s Maureen who dresses me every
night, and without Maureen, I wouldn’t
know gun metal from a hole in the
ground.” Do you have an idea what it
wouldn’ve meant to her? Do you have any
idea how many times she would’ve
played that tape for her husband and
her kids?
(BEAT) I know this is when it starts
to get busy for you, and I hope I
didn’t take up too much of your time.
Please don’t tell Maureen I spoke to
you, she’d be pretty mad at me.


You can purchase my synopsis of Encouraging the Heart, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

Have a Conversation – It’s The Heart of Networking, and so much more

Last Friday, I presented my synopsis of the book Power by Jeffery Pfeffer.  I referred to Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.  As I thought about these books, I thought about a skill that is so front and center obvious.  In these, and many other books, it is taken for granted, but it probably should be mentioned, and reinforced often:  the skill of being a good conversationalist really is the starting place for everything else that follows.

Are you good at the art of conversation?  If you are, consider yourself lucky.  If not – you’ve got some work to do.

Years ago I heard this definiton (I forget where I heard this, or who said it – my apology to the source):

What is a conversation?  The first person speaks while the second person listens.  Then the second person speaks while the first person listens.  This is called turn-taking.

This is so simple – yet profound.  When the other person is speaking, it is your job to listen.  It is not your job to be thinking about what you will say next, what you will say in response…  but it is your job to listen. If you take your turn at listening, with sincerity and respect and focus, then you have a better chance at being heard when it us your turn to speak.

Anything less than this “listen-speak” turn-taking is not quite a true conversation.

I have not read this book, but I have put it in my “one of these days” stack (so many books – so little time):  The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure by Catherine Blyth.  Here are a few lines from the book (thanks to Amazon “first pages”)”

All communication is dialogue…
Don’t talk to strangers”  Don’t speak until spoken to?
Forget it.  Inhibition is useless.  How do you start a conversation?  Simple:  Say hi.  It’s easy to say.

And here are three of her five maxims:

Think before you speak.
Listen more than speak.
Take turns.

So, here is your assignment for the week.  Have some good conversations.  Starting today…

Why “Help me understand” Falls Short – Part II

Cheryl offers:  Have you ever had one of those experiences where you complete something and think “Well, that was OK, but it didn’t quite hit the mark; and I’m not sure why I feel this way?”  Well, it happened to me with the blog a few days ago by the same title, only it was part 1 and I didn’t realize it at the time. Something kept bothering me about that blog. I felt like I was missing a point, something really important. Then it hit me out of the blue while I was not really thinking about it at all. What was missing is this. The phrase “Help me understand” is about having the person asking the question understands or learn more. Or as is often the case, it is about them having an idea of what the answer should be and seeing if by talking about it more, you can figure out what they think you should know. The focus of the conversation is on the person stating the phrase.  In a true coaching relationship, it’s the opposite! The coach does ask questions, but not for their own education on the topic. In fact, when we train leaders to be coaches, we direct them to avoid the topic and keep the conversation focused on the coachee. True coaching questions are designed to facilitate the learning for the person being asked. This is the direct opposite of the phrase “Help me understand” intent when the learning is asker centered. This is what was tickling me from my unconscious. In a true coaching relationship, the focus of the listening, the questions, and the energy is all on the person being coached. So, when a person says they want to have a coaching conversation and then ask to be educated, just know this is NOT a coaching conversation.  Maybe this is why many people are insulted or put off by the phrase.

And you know how that came to me out of the blue? I bet everyone reading this has had this experience. Annie McKee discusses this in Resonant Leadership. Our brains need to rest so they can be truly creative. When we rush about working frantically, then try to think clearly, most of us find it difficult to easily select that best answer. When we allow ourselves down time and rest, our brains have the energy and space for creativity.  Rest is essential to great leadership.

You Can’t Mandate Creativity – Leadership Lessons from the Maestro

You can force compliance with your directions, you can require obedience, but you can’t mandate enthusiasm, creativity, fresh thinking, or inspiration.

These are the words of the maestro, the “fictional leader” in the book Maestro: A Surprising Story About Leading by Listening by Roger Nierenberg.

Bob Morris strongly encouraged me to tackle this book (it is my selection for the July First Friday Book Synopsis – read Bob’s review of the book here).  As usual with Bob’s recommendations, it was a good one.  And the reason is this:  leadership is not restricted to the world of business.  It is everywhere present, all around us.  There are bad leaders, misdirected leaders, mediocre leaders, and a few really good leaders.  (too few).

In this book, the fictional maestro provides a number of valuable lessons, like:

#1 – Listen first, then lead. The maestro was constantly demanding subtle, almost imperceptible corrections to the orchestra.  When the small corrections were made, the music became far better, much more alive.  And he knew the flaws, and developed the correctives, only by listening very carefully to the orchestra – each part, each section, of each piece of music.

#2 – Visualize the ideal; recognize the current reality; close the gap between the two. The maestro was always listening to two pieces of music – the “perfect” version in his head, and the “actual” version in rehearsal. From the book:

Hearing the two versions (the “perfect version in my head, and the “actual version” at rehearsal) of the piece superimposed, I find the difference between the two.  There’s a gap between them, and the work of the rehearsal process is to eliminate that gap.

Only after the “perfect version” is clear will the rehearsals provide the improvements necessary to move toward the ideal, the “perfect.”

#3 – Actually lead – be one-half step ahead of the people at all time. There is a wonderful section of the book when a student conductor is being critiqued/mentored by the maestro.  He observes that the student’s baton is, in essence, following the music of the orchestra.  The maestro explains that the baton has to be “just ahead” of the orchestra.  The maestro has to beckon the orchestra to follow, not just keep time with the orchestra, and certainly not follow the orchestra.  This is a terrific point.  Leadership is ahead of the people – but just far enough ahead that the people can still follow.

There are other leadership lessons from the maestro found in this wonderful book.  This is a terrific read.  I commend the book to all who lead others.

Stop, look, listen – Three Failings at the top levels of Toyota

Time has a terrific overview, with some insightful analysis, on the Toyota meltdown: Behind the Troubles at Toyota by Bill Saporito with Michael Schuman and Joseph Szczesny.  Here are three key excerpts:

“The big deal is this question, Does an organization know how to hear and respond to weak signals, which are the problems, or does it have to hear strong signals? You have to listen to weak signals. By the time you get to strong signals, it’s too late.” (Steven Spear of MIT, author of Chasing the Rabbit: How Market Leaders Outdistance the Competition and an expert in the dynamics of high-performance companies).

When weak signals started coming out in 2002, Toyota’s top management wasn’t listening.

Complexity is the enemy of any manufacturer, and rapid growth increases it.

We’ve already posted a couple of times about Toyota’s failed crisis management (its “dreadful crisis management,” says the Time article).  It is clear that they knew of their problems long before the current crisis.  The Time article points out that the first National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations came in 2003.

I keep thinking about the counsel I get consistently from the best business books, and one clear and oft-repeated message is this:
stop, look, pay attention, spot problems, and open your mouth loudly to call attention to these problems!

Here’s a quote that might put it in simple English:

The design thinker, in the words of novelist Saul Bellow, is “a first-class noticer.”
(from The Design of Business by Roger Martin).

The process really is simple. Make sure you have a number of “first-class noticers” in your company, encourage them to notice things, and listen to them, actually listen to them, when they tell you something.

Toyota had these “weak signals” coming at them, but they did not pay attention.  I suspect that workplace segregation played a key role – the people at the top just simply do not interact often enough with the rest of the people in the real world, from employees to vendors to customers…  (Note:  “interact with” means have conversations with means listen to…)  And, as the Time article says, “by the time you get strong signals, it’s too late.”

So it seems to me that this rather old and well-worn advice could have been pretty helpful:

Stop – look – listen.