Listening Generously – Important but not easy

In my experience, at least 90% of all issues that come up in organizations are rooted in communication challenges. We blame the process or the product or the person, but most of the time, if we improved our ability to listen and speak with greater effectiveness, the problem would be resolved quickly and easily.

For this reason, one of the Fundamentals we always recommend is called “Listen Generously.” We often say that listening is more than simply “not speaking.” It’s about being present and engaged by minimizing distractions and letting go of the need to agree or disagree. Perhaps most importantly, it’s focused on listening to understand.

Information Overload

As simple as this sounds, it can be incredibly difficult to practice. The sheer volume of information we’re exposed to each day affects our ability to listen.
According to a study conducted at the University of California-San Diego, we’re inundated with 34 gigabytes of information every day! During waking hours, we receive more than 100,000 words through emails, texts, television, radio and yes, blog posts. The speed and volume of information we take in every day severely impedes our ability to focus. And if we can’t focus, we can’t listen.

A Technological Approach to This Problem

The potential impact of this lack of focus and listening is troubling, particularly when we consider the effect on things like customer service (both external and internal) and relationship building. I recently read about a Boston-based company that developed an interesting tool in an effort to solve this dilemma. This company, lead by an MIT professor, designed software that actively monitors (in real time) a customer service representative’s conversation with their customer. If the representative is talking too much, “talking over,” or interrupting the customer, the software will let them know! It will also monitor such things as tone and engagement. It will even provide a warning if the customer appears to be confused or annoyed. While this approach might seem Orwellian to some, I think there’s something to be learned here.

It’s About Being Intentional

The purpose of this software is really just to help the listener to become more aware. Too many times we launch right into a conversation the same way we’ve done hundreds of times, without giving nearly enough consideration to our audience and how (or if) we’re connecting with them. Imagine how helpful it might be if for every conversation we had, we were provided with a rolling word count (for ourselves and our customer or teammate). Imagine being on a call and being “nudged” every time we were talking too much or not asking enough questions. Imagine being on a call and being warned that we were clearly not listening. While it might become pretty annoying, it would definitely increase our awareness, and that’s really the point.

I don’t think we need a software program to help us to get better at this. Like all behavior change, it starts with becoming aware. Once aware, we can shut down some of our “automatic” behavior and become more intentional about truly listening to understand.

My experience is that listening generously is one of the most powerful behaviors you and your firm can adopt. When practiced regularly, it builds trust, enables better collaboration, and allows you to build stronger relationships with your customers. It’s that important.

If you’d like to learn more about listening generously or how to start defining all of the behaviors critical to your success, give us a call or shoot us an email. We promise to listen.