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Fundamental #23: Listen Generously

Fundamental #23: Listen Generously


The 30 Fundamentals that make up the “ConnectSMART Way” describe how we want to run our business – the way we treat our clients, the way we work with each other, and even the way we relate to our vendors and suppliers.  They’re who we are and they’re the foundation of our success.  They drive everything we do, every day. Each week we focus on a different fundamental and discuss in depth.

Fundamental #23: Listen Generously

LISTEN GENEROUSLY. Listening is more than simply “not speaking.” Give people your undivided attention. Be present and engaged. Quiet the noise in your head and let go of the need to agree or disagree. Create open space for team members to express themselves without judgment. Listen with care and with empathy. Most importantly, listen to understand.

The fundamentals are a lot like the metricsIT and KPIs that we work with in
ConnectSMART. We all have those fundamentals that we identify more closely with and tend to focus on. However, there is usually a balancing fundamental. This week’s fundamental is a great balance for last week’s. Almost everyone loves to jump on the bandwagon of speaking straight (fundamental #22) but not usually so much on this one! We all want others to listen to us, but we like to focus more on being heard and getting our own point across than checking our own ego at the door (fundamental #6) and actively listening. I think this is a lot like respect. You can’t force people to listen to you any more than you can demand respect. You don’t deserve respect you earn it. The same goes for listening generously. You have to be listen to be heard. Do you find yourself waiting impatiently for someone to stop talking so you can give your own opinions, or worse yet cutting off the other party? If so, not only are you not listening generously, but you probably aren’t listening at all! There is an old saying that you have one mouth and two ears. You should use them in the same proportion.

I enjoy a great conversation. But to have a conversation you have to have a dialogue, not a monologue! My favorite way to have a conversation is with a great cigar. There is something about the artifice of the cigar that lends itself to meaningful conversation instead of prattling. To enjoy the cigar it must first be properly lit, then several long draws per minute, holding the smoke in your mouth to get the flavor, then holding the cigar in one hand while slowly blowing out the smoke. None of this can be done while talking, only listening! I have always been intrigued how it slows the conversation down. If you are doing all the talking your cigar goes out! This is not an argument for tobacco, but everyone is always longing for the good old days of respectful discourse…  This is actually a great example of listening. If you got stuck on the context of cigars and missed the point of conversation you just proved the point. I also had to add the smiley emoticon so you would know that I was joking (sort of) that polite discourse hailed back to the days when cigars were more prevalent and accepted in everyday life. But if you do want to keep the ember of a conversation going, you have to pause, reflect, take a couple puffs of shut your mouth, and listen!

TechnolgyBoth Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein have been quoted with a variation of “better to be thought a fool, then open your mouth and remove all doubt”. How often how often we fail to adhere to this wisdom. We get so set in our own mindset and opinions that we can’t see another side to the coin. At the same time listening generously is not passive. It is not just being quiet or letting someone else speak. It is actively listening. Putting aside your judgement of what is being said or how and truly trying to understand from the other persons perspective and point of view. There is rarely a right and wrong perspective (which is translated to my point of view and yours). Usually it is somewhere in the middle. That is the beauty of the team. Whether in a relationship or a business this is where two are not only better than one, but one plus one is more than two. If we listen generously with each other we learn from each other and our experiences making the end result better than either of us could have come up with originally. This becomes the difference between collaboration and coercion. If I just want everyone to see things my way I have to coerce and convince people that I am right. How much better is it to realize that none of us alone have all of the answers?

Passion for your point of view is great, but you have to have the maturity to not confuse your passion with arrogance. In our world of instant gratification on almost every level and the value (rightly) placed on decisiveness we can find ourselves instantly polarized. If I started my next paragraph with “I saw on Fox News…” half the of you immediately had a reaction and made a judgement without even knowing what the next line would be. The other half who smugly just thought that it didn’t apply to them would have the same response if I started with “I saw on MSNBC”! We all make those snap dismissals without actually listening. This also ties into fundamental #16 (Communicate to be Understood). We have to be careful of both the verbal and non-verbal clues and words we use. It is a little bit easier when you are writing something out because you have the opportunity to review what you are writing and edit it to get your point across clearly.

I see this harmony between communicating to beFUNDAMENTALS understood (#16), speaking straight (#22), and listening generously (#23) the same way I see respect as I commented on earlier. Something I have tried to teach my children is that it has dual responsibilities. The first is that it is incumbent on me to show respect. Whether for a position or a person I have the responsibility to have respect. On the other hand, I have the responsibility to earn the respect given to me. I can’t just demand that people respect my position just because of my position. I have to also earn that respect by how I respect the position, others, and myself. The same holds true in communicating with each other. We have to work on all three of these qualities. Just because we speak straight doesn’t mean we can be understood. At the same time we can’t be put off and shut out what someone is saying because of the way they said it. We have to listen generously, not just listen long. We have to assume positive intent (#20) to be able to listen generously.

So this week as we focus on listening generously. Be aware of the roadblocks that you might be putting up that prevents you from communicating to be understood, and regardless of the walls you may feel are being erected to prevent you from listening, quiet the retort or the great gotcha line in your head to truly listen to the heart of what each person is saying without being put off by the words. There should be a meme with “The Most Interesting Man in the World” for “I don’t always listen…” but I couldn’t find the right one. But at any rate “Listen generously my friends”.


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