How To Be a More Powerful Listener

Want to be a more powerful listener? If you’re like me, sometimes the distractions are personal. We’re afraid to hear ourselves. Great listening starts by setting aside the physical and emotional distractions that get in the way of what we most need to hear. But when we can, the impact is palpable.

I encourage you to pick one person this week and really listen to what she has to say. Even if that person is you.

5 Ways Listening Like an Anthropologist Will Make You a Better Leader

When I was in grad school, there were clearly two camps (and they didn’t respect each other all that much): The scientests out to prove their hypotheses through experimentation, control groups, and statistical analysis, and the qualitative researchers who showed up, listened, and let the theories emerge.

Being in business, and studying at night, I was initially drawn to the power of proof. But as I grew into executive roles, it became clear that the most important research skills I learned during that time were the ethnography skills of the anthropologists. See also The Power of a Road Trip.

As you move up the ranks, there will be others to crunch the numbers, and yes, you must be able to interpret them and make decisions. But most execs never fully master the art of showing up subtly, without pre-conceived conclusions and letting the data inform their hypotheses.

The good news is it’s not that hard (close your ears, ethnographers, I’m on your side.)

Karin Hurt’s Big Rules of Showing Up Like an Anthropologist

I label this as such to prevent losing my status as an adjunct professor in a prestigious MBA program, or to make anyone roll over in their graves. This is not based on a scientific review of the literature in the field as applied to business. Just my gut. Here it goes.

1. Truly believe you don’t already know

Quite frankly if you can’t pull this off, you’re better off staying in your office. Great Translators know they must listen first. If you’re out and about to “teach them a thing or two” know that you’re missing the most important point…and so will they. See when MBWA becomes OCHTC, you’re won’t learn beans. Like a good anthropologist observe what’s happening to you as you live in community with your employees.

2. Dress the part

Don’t show up in your power suit. Meet them where they are.

3. Shut up

Yes, you may think you have all the answers. In fact, it’s quite possible you really do. Save it for later. Sure it’s more efficient to turn the tables right there and then. What these folks need most right now is to be heard. Yes, yes, let it inform your communication plan. Yes, yes, explain your perspective. Yes, respond back in a personal message to them. But remember for this moment, don’t express your shock at the buried bodies. You are a listener. Concentrate on doing that well.

4. Collect unbiased themes

Honestly, I’ve attended skip level meetings with execs where they missed 90% of what they needed to hear, only to take away the stuff that proved everything was working just fine. And worse: that’s what showed up in their report! That works for a minute, but it’s no way to win well or achieve long-term success.

5. Engage

This is where I’m going to get into trouble with the scholars. But if you’re an exec, your intervention is, well, an intervention. Don’t argue or retort, but do show up with huge appreciation and an appetite for more. Explain why their perspective helps to improve the business. If there are immediate actions you’re taking away for goodness sakes say that.

Imagine the possibilities if you showed up like an anthropologist every now and then.

What Happens When We Really Listen

Have you ever noticed that sometimes life rhymes?

Something happens to you that fits together so well with what happens next that (as my editor would say of another one of my other rhyming days) “That story is so tight no one is going to believe it.” But the truth is, our lives are full of true rhyming stories ready to knock a message into our hearts if we can listen well enough to  hear them. This weekend that happened to me–again.

Saturday evening I was coaching a friend who wants to become a keynote speaker. I was drawn in by her powerful stories full of transformative potential. I connected to her raw conviction and was listening carefully for how I could help her hone her message. As she spoke her voice shook just a bit, not from fear but from her authentic emotion. She didn’t cry, and the truth is, the emotion made her message more powerful. It was raw, real and compelling.  She kept apologizing for getting “emotional” and saying how she just couldn’t understand it. “I never have this problem in front of an audience.”

As she was walking out the door, she stopped, turned around,  looked at me with concerned eyes and said,  “I figured out why I was getting so emotional. It’s because of how you were listening so intently. What if my audiences listen like that?”

“Then you will have made a powerful connection and will change lives.”

The next morning the tables were turned.

And the Tables Turned

As I entered the church lobby, my friend who had moved to New Mexico a few years ago came running across the room and gave me an enormous hug. A fellow leadership junkie, I excitedly shared all my new news, the book, the course, the keynotes…and he shared his. Our conversation was cut short by the chiming of the bell.

After service he came up and said, “Something’s not right with you. What is it?”

He had just asked me how I was an hour before and everything I had told him was sunny. What had he heard? I thought I was alright.

Tears started streaming down my face. Now, I was getting in touch with an emotion I didn’t even realize was so strong.

“My mom died a few months ago. And yesterday, we came up with such a powerful ending to the final chapter of our book, I know she would love it. But I can’t show it to her.”

Apparently that’s what he heard in the earlier exchange.

He started crying too, and said that his mother died 15 years ago, and he still feels that way anytime something good happens, and then shared, “She’s in you, and she’s in that book.”

And we just cried for a minute together, knowing that it’s better to know how you feel.

Real listening transforms us.

What would happen if we all listened just a bit more intently?

Distracted Driving: Lead with Care

You’re distracted. Multi-tasking. Getting work done. You’re trying hard to give everyone the attention they need. It’s hard. If you’re like me, being spread too thin leads to distracted focus.

Distraction speaks louder than words.

Today’s post, Distraction Speaks Louder than Words,  comes via the Lead Change Group, a terrific community of leadership thinkers. My inspiration for this topic came from comments on my Effective Listening: Necessary But Not Sufficient post.

Distracted Driving at Work

What Your Team Hears When You Can’t Hear Them…

  • You are not that important to me
  • Others matter more
  • Your project is not my priority
  • Your project is not important
  • I don’t respect your opinion
  • I don’t really care about you
  • I’m not invested in your success read more here

Happy Memorial Day From Let’s Grow Leaders. Lead well. Drive safely.

Effective Listening: Necessary, But Not Sufficient

Why aren’t we better at listening? Is it really skills or something deeper?

I’ve been intrigued by a 6 month, Leadership LinkedIn Discussion asking leaders to give “one piece of advice” for new leaders. With over 1300 comments, the discussion was skewed heavily toward one topic: effective listening. How leaders “listen” trumped all other discussion threads including transparency, honesty, and knowing yourself.

Julian Treasure’s Ted Talk,  5 Ways to Listen Better, attracted 1.5M views. Clearly, we know that bad listening is dangerous, or we wouldn’t be so interested.

Bad listening…

  • is contagious
  • discourages future communication
  • disengages
  • destroys trust
  • erodes confidence
  • ?

Listening deteriorates when we are

  • rushed
  • preoccupied
  • distracted
  • multitasking
  • disinterested
  • unskilled
  • intimidating
  • already know the answer
  • don’t really want input
  • ?

We know how to listen

  • Avoid multi-tasking
  • Create a quiet time, free from distractions
  • Connect
  • Empathize
  • Summarize
  • Ask Questions
  • ?

 Perhaps the problem is larger than listening

What we label as skills problems, may be deeper. Listen for what you choose to hear.

Look in the mirror for signs of lost

  • Respect
  • Empowerment
  • Interest
  • Passion
  • Purpose
  • ?