Have you ever had that first conversation at the water cooler in the morning and it felt so resistant that the rest of the day was a bust?
I recently read an article by a LinkedIn Influencer whom I also happen to know here in Atlanta. Randy Kessler’s post, “Listening carefully is a forgotten art — and the key to good business,” caught my attention for a several reasons: 1) I am a career sales and marketing professional, 2) I have owned businesses, 3) I am a continuous student of the art and science of both better listening and better conversations.
He writes on the importance of listening, that it’s a forgotten art, and that is critical to your success…especially in business. After reading the article, I also read all of the comments. Some profound, some meh, and all of them in agreement: We need to listen more.
I couldn’t agree more. We need to listen to clients and bosses, of course, as well as our coworkers, family, friends, people we ride the train with in the morning, people who cash us out at the grocery store, people who ask us for money, all of us.
Why Listening is Important
Since listening is so very important, I have to ask ‘why’? Because listening is only half of the equation. At some point, we will want to contribute, share, engage, talk. It will be our turn to hit the ball back over the net. So, if we are listening, then when it is time to speak? How do we conduct ourselves to leverage what we’ve heard and convert it in such a way that both parties can move forward? Isn’t that the real objective? Forward to yes, forward to no, forward to learn and grow. (yep, that rhymed) If we listen correctly, then our opportunity to create meaningful conversations is tenfold.
Dr. Judith Glaser, renowned executive leadership coach, CEO, author of the book; Conversational Intelligence, and creator of the coaching training platform Conversational IQ (or C-IQ) defines three levels of conversation that are available to us when engaging with someone.
Level I: Transactional Listening
We exchange information in a Tell & Ask whose intention is to confirm what we know. It’s typically ‘I-centric’ and is used to inform. Cecil B. DeMille used to say: “How did you love my movie?”
Level II: Positional Listening
In this type of conversation, we are exchanging power in a relationship of Advocate & Ask. We are defending what we know with a goal to persuade. Example: “How does a large fries sound with your burger and shake?” Who ever says no to that question?
Level III: Transformational Listening
When we have this type of conversation, we are exchanging energy. We seek to discover what we don’t know. The opportunity to co-create emerges in a space with high trust. Here is where we truly listen without judgement. We have no answers and are seeking connection. Examples: “What have you learned?” and “What does this mean for you?” and “What does success look like for you?”. All powerful, transformational questions.
So what does it all mean? Each of these levels requires focused listening and also specific usage of language to connect, to co-create mutual success. In this state we can innovate and transform. It is a We-centric experience for both parties.
The Challenges of Having Better Conversations
For too long, we have looked to inform and mostly persuade others that we are their answer to whatever we are wanting to convey. We conduct conversations in Levels I and II with the hope that knowingly or unknowingly, we convince the other party that we have the process to make them successful via whatever it is we do. As human beings, we want to be right. It feels good to persuade someone to our point of view. Being right actually releases dopamine into the brain, a feel-good hormone known as the reward hormone. So, if we are addicted to being right, that can clearly limit the levels of conversation we can conduct.
Most service-based industries today claim to listen to a client’s needs and still end up in a conversation that is more telling than listening and asking (sometimes referred to as the ‘tell-sell-yell’ approach). Even if they move to Level II which is a state where they’re willing to explore their client’s positions and either accept or reject them, they ultimately resort to dragging the client into their model because that’s easy and proven.
What if maybe, just maybe, that client is not right for your model and is right for another provider’s model. Where’s the win in jamming a client through your model? Where’s the value in jamming a family member or friend into your point of view? Who is best served when that occurs?
Achieving a Win-Win Scenario
Mapping to the clients (or family members or friends) agenda and walking out to meet their agenda and service it is the true win-win scenario. However, the only way to truly achieve this scenario is to listen deeply, non-judgmentally and curiously to the other person. Then, and only then, can we best serve each other. When we listen effectively, we can then initiate conversations effectively. It allows us to connect to the other party and work in a co-creative state with them.
To create conversations based on Level I and II listening offers up the opportunity to create resistant conversations, like that one at the water cooler. And when that happens, Katie bar the door. There is actually neuro-scientific evidence that these interactions affect our behavior negatively by releasing chemicals in the brain that can stay with us for up to a day! Now try to create something when you are interacting from this place. Which is why it is critical to frame questions and initiate conversations from a creative and curious state. Even how we answer someone’s inquiry is critical. ‘Yes, but’ sets a tone entirely different from ‘Yes, and…’. The first is dismissive and condescending, the latter is one of curiousity and inclusion of the other’s idea or direction. Just try that little shift for now and see what happens next. Powerful and simple.
Yes, there are challenges to evolving your being and doing it this way. The rest of the ‘machine’ doesn’t initially respond to new things and ways. It is going to demand results first in the way it has grown accustomed. Dr. Glaser states that “to get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations. Everything happens through conversations!”
So take a moment, breath, listen, process what you’ve heard and begin with an idea to have a better conversation. The results, at least for part of the time, will leave you speechless.
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