“What lesson did you learn that was expensive, that you had to pay for, but it’s made your life better?” my friend, Mark, asked me.
“Do everything you can to be an exceptional listener. I had the greatest teacher who did the opposite—who did not listen and created catastrophes.”
“Who is that?”
“My father. He gave me a backhanded gift. I wanted to be unlike him. To this day, family members do not trust him—because he does not listen, he does not admit his errors, and he does not get better,” I said, from my heart.
To become an Exceptional Listener, we use the N.O.W. process:
N – nurture your listening skills
O – open your mind to your internal obstacles
W – wrestle and rise above your previous limits
- Nurture your listening skills
“You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge, and what you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control of you from within, festering and destroying you and those around you.” – Richard Rohr
Why do you press on, keep talking, and, at times, fail to listen?
Here are some details that have been voiced by my students and clients:
- Listening takes time. I’m afraid that we don’t have the time.
- Some people really don’t get it. I don’t want my team to be swayed by stupid ideas.
- I don’t want the meeting to descend into a complaint-fest—people just complaining.
I’ve learned that the leader sets the tone.
For example, with my MBA students, I have asked, “What is working for you? And, what do you want more of?” at the end of the initial class.
You’ll notice that I have set the tone as positive.
Because I often work with an international group of students, I have them write down their answers anonymously. Some cultures hold that if you speak up and ask questions, you might be disrespectful to the instructor.
So, I provide the quiet students with a way of “talking to me” through their anonymous responses on slips of paper that they hand in.
Then, in the next class, I read the comments and I respond to the comments in real time with the students.
They also see how I might add something to the session because I am listening to their comments–and I’m incorporating their preferences when appropriate.
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- Open your mind to your internal obstacles
Listening is hard work. That’s the truth.
We need to observe our internal obstacles. What about our current fears and internal pain keeps us from devoting our full attention?
Several years ago, I found myself making a big mistake while directing my first feature film. I was so enthusiastic and grateful to be directing the film that I gushed my thank-yous and appreciation.
I watched faces. I was coming across as “too much.” The actors and crew faces communicated: “Is this guy for real?”
Upon reflection, I imagined that some of my frantic energy included “if they don’t like me, they won’t do what I say.”
Here are examples of “internal obstacles”:
- Trying too hard because you’re afraid of something.
- Feeling overwhelmed so you have too little energy to devote to each person and each conversation.
You need to take great care of yourself, so you have a big reservoir of personal energy.
What do you need that energy for? To communicate to people in the way that they prefer to receive the messages—and in a way they CAN receive the messages.
As a feature film director, I learned to direct each actor in a unique way, customized to the person in front of me.
- Wrestle and rise above your previous limits
I’ve said, “I was so focused on the deadline that I didn’t hear you out last time. Continue. I’m listening carefully.” Thereby, I admitted my error, and I sought to create a remedy.
I’ve learned from my interactions with my father that one cannot trust someone who does not admit errors. Why? Someone who refuses to see his or her own humanness cannot change for the better.
To rise above your past errors, ask a family member or team member: “What works for you when we have a conversation?” and “What gets in the way when we’re talking?”
You might hear something like:
- I really need you to boil it down to your main point. You give me too much detail, and then I don’t know what’s really important.
- You talk too quickly. And you assume that I have details that I don’t have. Maybe you could ask me if I’ve heard about something, so we know we’re on the same page.
- Just tell me what you want. You have this way of asking a question instead of just coming out and telling me what you need.
In summary, to lead other people, listening well is an essential tool. It involves getting internal obstacles out of the way and asking appropriate questions including:
- What’s most important to you about …?
- What works for you when we have a conversation?
- What gets in the way when we’re talking?
- What is working for you? And what do you want more of?
Rehearse with a friend or trusted colleague so you improve your conversation skills.
This process will open the door for you–for new opportunities and enjoying your life.
Spoken Word Strategist – Executive Coach
Speaker-Author, 44 books so far 🙂
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