For this week’s post we interviewed Russell Bishop, Huffington Post editor, columnist and author of the new book Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work, about the art of listening.
Q. What makes someone a good listener?
A. Most people speak and listen with the tip of the iceberg. What I mean by that is the speaker talks about what’s at the tip, but they know all the ice that is underneath. The listener hears the tip and assumes it’s all of the ice.
Q. How can a listener get to the ice, so to speak?
A. To begin with, you need to ask yourself whether you are listening to understand or just preparing to speak. Listening requires inquiry. Once you have heard the tip of the iceberg, you come back and let the speaker know, “Here’s what I heard,” or, “It seems like you might be saying X. What else am I missing?” The listener needs to work from the presumption that the speaker has told you something for which there is a greater depth you have yet to perceive.
Q. How does inquiry differ from active listening?
A. We have all been through some form of active listening course — and we have all been the victim of someone who has been through one of those courses. The problem with active listening is that you can quote back exactly what the person said to you, but not really understand any of it. When you practice inquiry, you might say the words back but with the intention of making certain you understand – not just that you heard the words. Then you are asking the person:
- Tell me more?
- That’s interesting. What else?
- This is what I’m hearing. What am I missing?
Q. People don’t seem very skilled at inquiry. Why do you think that is?
A. The other side of inquiry is advocacy. We are trained from an early age in schools to pick a point of view and put forth an argument about its validity. This happens when we write papers, speak in front of a group, debate, give a speech, etc. So we are highly trained in advocacy, but not inquiry. That’s where the breakdown occurs.
Q. Do you think high performers practice more inquiry?
A. Yes. Seeking to understand before moving forward is key to listening, and high performers naturally assume that they are missing something and want to find out what that is and build on it. High performers know that it does you no harm to assume that something is missing.
Q. How does this type of listening impact high performance overall?
A. When inquiry is being practiced by the listener, the speaker won’t feel defensive because nothing is coming at them. Because of this, the speaker will be more relaxed, and, as any athlete can tell you, a relaxed muscle is a faster and more agile muscle. You have to be in a relaxed state for high performance, so when the listener helps the speaker relax — by practicing inquiry — higher performance is naturally achieved.
What listening challenges do you face in your work? We would love to hear your comments.