We are trained to push conversations forward by mastering the art of speaking, but never the art of listening. Alicia Couri interviews Oscar Trimboli, who aims to educate people about deep listening through his work as a podcast host, author, and keynote speaker. He shares three simple tips (and a bonus) on how to create great and meaningful conversations. Oscar talks about clearing your mind while another person is talking, analyzing things that are not said verbally, and the difference between deep and active listening. Oscar also explains how individuals trained in argumentative communication can learn to manage their ego and improve how they listen to increase the likelihood of turning a conversation to their favor.
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Listen Deeper to Lead with Confidence With Oscar Trimboli
This episode is all about listening. We have an amazing expert that’s going to share so many wonderful tips for us on listening and sharing some stories about listening. Let me share with you a little bit about Oscar and then we are going to bring him on. Oscar Trimboli is on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners. He is an author, host of the Apple award-winning podcast, Deep Listening, and a sought-after keynote speaker.
He’s passionate about using the gift of listening to bring positive change in homes, workplaces, and cultures worldwide. He has interviewed over 100 of the most diverse workplace listeners, including air traffic controllers, death and foreign language interpreters, hostage negotiators, and spies. As part of researching world-class listeners, over 14,000 people have contributed to this research about what gets in their way when it comes to listening.
Oscar is a marketing and technology industry veteran working for Microsoft, PeopleSoft, Polycom, and Vodafone. He consults American Express, AstraZeneca, Google, HSBC, Montblanc, PwC, Salesforce, Sanofi, and Siemens. Oscar loves his afternoon walks with his wife, Jenny, and their dog, Kilimanjaro. He will be playing Legos with 1 of his 4 grandchildren on the weekends. Welcome to the show, Oscar. I’m so excited to have you here.
I’m looking forward to listening to your questions.
Where in Australia are you?
I’m in Sydney, in Australia. I won the genetic lottery, the son of two first-generation migrants who moved from post-war Italy to Australia. I lived, loved, run, worked, and done everything within 40 miles of where I’m standing now. Although I have done a lot of international work, I was very lucky to be born where I was.
I loved my time in Australia. It’s shaped who I am. It’s a beautiful country. Now, the very first question I wanted to ask was how you get started on this quest for deep listening.
Like the Amazon, it started with a drip and then it started with a trickle, then it moved into a stream and then it moved into a small river and then it moved into a big river, and then eventually it’s momentum going. In April 2008, I’m in a boardroom at Microsoft. We are setting annual financial budgets for Australia with Singapore regional head office in Seattle, our global head office.
The meeting was 90 minutes long, and the 20-minute, my Vice President, Tracy, in the room said to me, “We need to see you immediately after this meeting.” That’s the equivalent of, “Honey, we need to talk.” From that point on in the meeting, I didn’t listen to anything. The only thing I was listening to was getting a piece of paper and trying to figure out how many weeks of salary I had left. Tracy had never said that to me before.
The meeting miraculously finished a little early. It finished at the 78-minute mark. As everybody left the room, Tracy asked me to close the door. As I walked back from closing the door, she said, “You have no idea what you did at the twenty-minute mark, do you?” I thought, “I’m getting fired and I don’t even know why.”
As I sat down and prepared for the inevitable, Tracy said to me, “If you could code how you listen, you could change the world.” As profound a moment of listening as that was on her behalf, in my head, in my mind, the only thing going through my head was, “I haven’t been fired.” One of the lessons from that is no matter what you say to somebody else, they are already interpreting and they are making their meaning from that when they are listening if they don’t have the full context.
One that caught forward two weeks later, burnout. The financial controller asked me to come to a budget-setting meeting for Australia and ask me to audit his listening. I realized as I sat and watched him for the next 90 minutes in that budget meeting, as I wrote down, he asked triple barrel questions. He’s only hearing from a handful of people in the meeting. He cuts certain people off, and certain people speak up. I realize I started to code how to listen. We have got 27,000 people in a research database who have told us what’s getting in their way when it comes to listening. We have started to code things. We coded a jigsaw puzzle game with coded practice cards for people. We have coded three books, and that’s where we are now.
From getting fired to creating this massive movement, that’s incredible. I was sitting on a plane reading your book. The gentleman next to me saw the title. He’s like, “Huh.” I remember you sent me an email asking, “Why don’t you ask the audience? I want to serve the audience.” I asked him, Andrew, so if you are reading because you said you read the show, this is for you so I’m asking right off the bat. He asked me, “How do you not let your mind wander so you can stay engaged while someone else is talking?” I’m going to also adjunct to this question, the 125, 400, and 900. You can decide what the 125, 400, and 900 are in the answer to that question.
Thanks, Andrew. Good listeners get distracted and great listeners know when they are distracted and get back in the conversation. You can’t stop distractions. Distraction is inevitable. When we talk about the numbers you have mentioned, you will understand the science that’s behind that. Your job when you are listening is not to be so tough on yourself to go, “I’m a terrible listener. I got distracted.” That doesn’t make you a terrible reader. It makes you human.
Be kind to yourself, Andrew. Here are a couple of things that most people don’t understand about reading that may help you notice your distraction quicker, which will keep you in the conversation longer. You will not stop distractions. You just need to learn to dance with it a little bit better. The first thing is, when it comes to listening, everybody thinks that focusing on the speaker is where you start to listen. That’s interesting, but it’s a false premise.You will not stop distraction. You just need to learn to dance with it a little bit better. Click To Tweet
The first person you need to listen to is you. For many of us, you don’t prepare for listening. You turn up with many browser tabs open in your mind taking over your working memory. You don’t have the space to listen, and distraction will have a bigger impact on you when you don’t shut down those browser tabs.
Whether you are a rock band, orchestra, or every professional musician, whether they played in the same room on the same day, with the same music, with the same band, and with the same instrument, they show respect to the audience. They show respect to their fellow musicians and the conductors, if it’s a band or orchestra, and tune their instruments for between 3 and 5 minutes before they go into a performance. It’s a sign of respect and professionalism, and it’s an acknowledgment that you are now preparing for a performance. The first thing I would say is to notice what you are doing immediately before you are going into that conversation.
Let me give you three simple tips and a bonus. If you can make these into a ritual, it’s great. What I’m about to say is very easy to do, yet it’s difficult to practice. Here are the three tips. Number one, manager electronic notifications. We can’t switch them off all the time. Some of us are in medical emergency room situations. Some of us are production supervisors who need to be on call all the time. I’m saying manage your notifications and be conscious of them. Use the technology. Don’t let the technology use you.
Tip number two, drink a glass of water before you go into every conversation. That will send a signal to the part of the body around the heart and the lungs known as the parasympathetic nervous system. It will relax. If you are reading this now and you take a drink of water, you will notice that you are very conscious of what’s happening with your body, as that water goes down, all of a sudden, something starts to calm down for you. What it’s doing is helping to shut down those browser tabs in your mind.
Tip number three, three deep breaths through the nose, down to the bottom of the lungs and the diaphragm, and then out through the mouth. Those three tips are very easy to say but difficult to practice. Our Deep Listening Ambassador Community, those people on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world say, “That’s the order you should do it in.” If you can manage your notifications first, then focus on your water and your breathing. That’s the sequence to do it. That’s the highest yield return you can make.
I will let you into a dirty little secret while we were doing the introduction. Alicia’s phone rang and she was completely distracted for the moment, and that’s a very simple example of using the technology and not letting the technology use you. I’m not judging her. I’m simply pointing out that most of us are unconscious about when these notifications can take place.
Whether you are on an iPhone, Android, Mac, or PC, there’s one button in every operating system that will turn those beeps and buzzers off automatically for you when you are in a meeting, as long as you have got that meeting in your schedule. These are the three tips. As a bonus, if you have time, play a song or music for 3 to 5 minutes. That will completely rewire your mind and recharge your listening batteries.
It’s like the Tesla supercharger station. It will get your listening battery fired up and moved from red or orange or touching on black all the way up to green and be charged, ready to listen. With those things in place, let me tell you what’s going on while the conversation is happening, but before I do, I want to pause and check in with Alicia. Any questions about that?
One of the things that he did mention to me was always thinking about my response while someone else is speaking, which is part of the distraction. It’s like I’m thinking about my response while they are speaking. I’m not sure I’m listening well.
That may or may not be your job in the conversation. Here’s the next tip. If you ask this question at the beginning of the conversation, listening moves from a battle for your attention, whether you are giving or paying attention in that conversation, whether you are providing an answer, solution, or merely listening.
“We know your meetings will be shorter. The person you are speaking to will say not what they say the first time, but they will say what they think and what they mean,” if you ask this question, the conversation will have a listening compass to guide you and the conversation. Your distraction is set not by you and your response, but by the purpose of the conversation.
Alicia smiled because she’s heard this question and the question is, “What will make this a great conversation?” With that in place, your job as a listener is to listen to their response because they may not want your response. A lot of people think listening is solving. A lot of people think listening is therapy. Listening is like comedy, dancing, and sex. The value is with the other person, not with you. As a comedian, your joke doesn’t work by itself. You need an audience.Listening is like comedy, dancing, and sex. The value is with the other person, not with you. Click To Tweet
You can dance alone, but it’s much more fun to dance together. You are moving together in a rhythm that’s set by the music and you are moving together and you are adjusting accordingly. The value of the experience is created together. It’s not that one is more dominant than the other will get to the third thing a little bit later on in the conversation.
The first thing you have to ask yourself is, “Do they want you to solve anything? Do they want you to respond?” Some people want the other person to create a container in which they can express their ideas. Let me give you those numbers in this context so you will understand why we are saying this. A speaker will speak at between 125 and 150 words per minute. A speaker can think up to nine times faster than they can speak. They can think nine times faster than they can speak.
That means that the very first thing they say is 14% of what they think and what they mean. If you are thinking up a response, a reply, and answer a solution to the 14%, you have missed 86% where they haven’t had a chance to explain what they think and what they mean. A good listener listens to what people say. Great listeners notice what’s not said. More is not said in a conversation than is said. Great listeners create a space for people to explore that gap. That’s going through your mind as you hear that.
Sometimes when I’m having these conversations with guests and I want to ask a question and I’m like, “I have three questions in my head right now, battling which one wants to come out first.” I resonate very strongly with that. You are thinking nine times faster than you can speak because sometimes my words try to come out and it’s like, “Let me pause for a minute and think about the question that I need to ask in this moment.” I resonate with that very much. Then listening for what isn’t said like giving that space and that opportunity to hear what’s not said than what is said because there’s that 86% that isn’t that aren’t words, but it’s being communicated in other ways.
You don’t want to hear all 86% either. For me, 1 of that 86% is, “Am I going to have toast for breakfast this morning or am I going to have a cup of tea with that? Am I going to walk the dog first? Am I going to feed the birds?” Probably that part of the 86% is not interesting. We can play a little game. You have got three questions that are exploding in your head. Here’s the real question for you. “Are they your questions or are they questions you think the audience would want us to have answered?”
Not in this particular instance at the moment, but I can’t guarantee it’s not going to happen at some point. A lot of times, it’s a combination of both. It’s like, “What is the question that’s going to serve this interview? What am I curious about?” Then making the choice between what I’m curious about and what’s better content for those who are reading.
Back for Andrew is the following. Write down or make a note of your question before you say it if you have been asked to ask questions. The second thing is, as you look at the question you have represented in writing, ask yourself. Is that question a question for you? Is it a question for them or is it a question to progress the conversation?
We ask questions so we can understand more, and that may be irrelevant sometimes, but mostly it’s not. The next question is, “Is it a question for them?” That’s more helpful. There’s always a third person even if there are only two people in a dialogue, and the third person is the dialogue. Most people don’t realize the conversation taking place has energy, momentum, and direction of itself. Now it’s not our job as the listener to control that. We go back to the question we ask at the beginning. What will make this a good conversation? That’s the question we want to think about. Is this question serving that purpose or whatever that purpose is? When we do that, conversations paradoxically are shorter. The relationship is stronger because they are saying what they think and what they mean.
I had this thing called dyscalculia, which means I have a relationship with numbers. When I say 3 is half of 8, people are very confused. A lot of people listen for similarities rather than listen for similarities and differences. The one I say 3 is half of 8. They immediately go, “He’s misspoken. He’s wrong. He’s confused. 3 is not half of 8. 4 is half of 8.”
I could also say, “0 is half of 8.” In all three cases, we are correct if we listen to what I mean. Now what you did when you said 4 is half of 8, you are thinking in math. When I said 3 is half of 8, I’m thinking in geometry. If you look at figure eight and you bisect it vertically and you separate it, there are two 3s there. If you turn the eight and you bisected in the center, there are two 0s there.
For many of us, whether that’s at work or at home when somebody says something that doesn’t make sense with our education, our cultural background, and our family upbringing. We immediately spring into, “No. Our patent says 4 is half of 8. Therefore, Oscar is wrong. Not what he said is incorrect or I’m curious.” It’s not even, “Why did I say that?” I’m curious because it’s different from the way I have discovered the world.
If you work in industries and environments where you need to collaborate where resources are tight, where there’s competition, and where customers are demanding, you are going to have 3 is half of 8 moments for pretty much every conversation. My invitation to you is to simply notice, “When do I jump to judgment to go, ‘That’s not my reality. That’s not my experience.’ Can I be curious a little longer and understand what they mean by that rather than what they said by that.” If you take a little bit of extra time, you would have discovered that I was talking in geometry rather than arithmetic.
Is that why you say tell me more?
That could be a reason we say, “Tell me more.” Tell me more is 1 of the 3 questions. I invite you all to build some muscles around in a conversation to explore what’s not said. Three questions are, tell me more, which is a north-south question. This is a question designed to keep the conversation going in the same direction, and you are listening for the similarities rather than the differences. There’s another smaller question you can ask, which is called and what else?
That’s the base question if I was asking that. I will go, “Is there anything else you have considered?” This is designed to be an east-west question. This is flipping the direction of the conversation 180 degrees to get people to listen differently and speak differently. Another dirty little secret of listening is good listeners hear people’s draft thoughts. Great listeners hear their ultimate meaning and they change the way a speaker communicates their idea.
When you do this well, rather than talking in circles or talking in a way that isn’t necessarily coherent to you. They will slow down, they will be more deliberate, and their ideas will make sense first to them and then to you. We want to help the speaker move and go in that direction north, or south, and we want them to go east, or west because then we are fully exploring what is that 86% in their mind.
When we do, all of a sudden, we hear what matters to them. Now the third phrase is tiny. Listen carefully for this one, you may miss it. Here it is. “Don’t worry. Nothing froze, hung, or anything like that.” If you spell the word listen and you reorganize those same letters. They spell the words silently. Silent and listening share the same letters.
If you can help yourself by shutting down those browser tabs and pausing a little longer, this speaker will fill that space and help you understand what they mean, and then you can come to a common understanding much faster. If you want three useful phrases after you have asked what will make this a great conversation, tell me more and what else, and then be silent.
Here we go again with the multiple questions in my head. People who are trained like lawyers specifically I’m going to talk about those who are trained to argue. They are trained to win an argument. You mention the ego in your book. I didn’t even show everybody a book, How to Listen. This is the book. You talked about the ego getting in the way of listening. When someone is trained, is that an ego situation? How can they improve their listening and not be combative or argumentative in every area of their life? You are trained to do this in work, but then it comes out in every other area.
It’s back to that simple intention at the beginning of the conversation that will make this a great conversation. Not what will make this a great conversation for you, but make it a great conversation. Meaning you, me, and the dialogue. It’s about that intention and the speaker has a responsibility too. If that’s your role, you can say to your lawyer friend, “I don’t want anything solved in this conversation. I don’t want any solutions for the next five minutes. Can you listen to what I have to say completely uninterrupted?” They will because one thing lawyers follow is protocol. When you think about the concept of historical precedent in law, it’s a protocol that they respect. Not enough of us have a conversation about how to have a conversation which we get into the what. We get into the content and we dialogue away.
If you can spend 5% of your time discussing how to discuss anything, it will be liberating. Not just for you but for others as well. Let me be clear. The listening I’m talking about is commercial workplace listening. It is not therapy. If you want therapy, go get therapy. The listening I’m talking about is making progress on dialogue to a commercial outcome. In the public sector, that may be a policy outcome in that context as well. Whether you are the person who’s adopting the position of listener or speaker, be clear on the role you would like to play and the outcome and the process through which you go through that in.
If you are going to a bar on a Friday night, don’t use these rules. Be human and enjoy yourself. If you do have an overbearing friend who’s come out of a weekend court and all kinds of litigation and disputes, be clear. It’s like, “I want to complain about something, but I don’t want you to solve it. I don’t want you to anticipate. There’s a class action in it for you or anything like that. I want you to listen for the next five minutes and I will say, ‘I’m finished now.’ You know it’s finished.”
We are not going to keep doing this all night long.
Whether it’s a lawyer, accountant, actuary, human resources, or professional, everybody has a professional bias that they bring to a conversation, and that’s what we have coded into the listening quiz people can take. It’s a seven-minute quiz. They can answer twenty questions and we tell them what gets in the way when it comes to their listening.
Whether people are classic interrupters or classic problem solvers or their classic hijackers of the conversation where they move the spotlight from the person speaking onto themselves so they are lost in the conversation. You can do that too again. It’s about setting up the how rather than let’s chat. How do you think the lawyers in your life would respond to that?
I don’t know. Someone was asking me about that, about being trained. When you are trained to respond argumentatively, it doesn’t matter. I might say, “The sky is blue,” and you are automatically trained to rebut what I’m saying. That’s why that came into how much of that is the ego that plays into that and how much of that is when they are trained to do that.
The ego plays an important role. It protects us. One where the ego takes over unconsciously and we are not conscious of the impact of our ego. That can happen. A trained lawyer, their purpose is not to rebut. That is not their purpose. Their purpose is to interview higher court judges. Their purpose is to get an outcome for the person they are representing.Ego plays an important role in protecting you. However, you must never let it take over unconsciously. Click To Tweet
If all you do is rebuttal all the time, I’m not sure how successful you are going to be because you are going to miss a lot of things when you are busy rebutting. You are going to miss a lot of what isn’t said because you are too busy trying to rebut the first 14% of what they say again. My invitation to you who are trained in adversarial dialogue and the mediators who are reading this will say, “You need to create a container for the truth to emerge as much as to rebut.”
I have another question. It’s from Greg on LinkedIn. Greg is a coach and he wanted to know that when he’s coaching with a client. We talked about interrupting earlier. You mentioned interrupting. When he’s with a client and he can hear them going down a path that’s not helpful, it might be destructive and he wants to interrupt that negative sabotage pattern that they are going into. When is it good to interrupt and when should you not interrupt someone?
Please don’t assume that interruption is bad. Interruption is another dialogue technique we have in our kit bag of having a conversation. In Eastern Europe and South America talking over the top of each other is a sign of a strong relationship. This is cultural. It’s contextual as well. When not to interrupt somebody? When they are mid-sentence, mid-breath, or mid-thought, that’s not the time to cut them off. Wait for the gap and pause.
If you haven’t set up this container, Greg, which is what will make this a great conversation, you miss the opportunity to skillfully, elegantly, and professionally interrupt. When you ask that question at the beginning, it becomes the compass setting for you and the other person who’s going into a downward spiral back into pathological outcomes or things like that.
You can check at the end of a breath or you can check in every 10 to 15 minutes and simply say, “Greg, at the beginning of the conversation, you said this will be a great outcome. I want to check-in. Is this story getting us there?” Sometimes we are quick to judge. The reason they tell those downward spiral stories over and over again is because they haven’t been heard when they tell that story.
The only reason people are repeating these stories is they don’t feel anybody has heard what they think, what they mean, and what’s in their heads and their hearts. If you do that, people will put a completely different meaning to the story. There are times when the interruption is crucial. If it’s aligned with the question, what will make this a good conversation?
If you think the dialogue is moving away from that, that is helpful. Now remember, they said it. You are not making the judgment. You are simply putting a mirror up to them saying, “You said this. How is this story helping that?” It’s not your job to judge it and say it’s unhelpful or any of the other adjectives in that. Have a different relationship with interruption. Professor David Clutterbuck, which is one of the interviews I conducted. Talk about the importance of impatience in dialogue because sometimes being impatient can be the most productive thing for the other person in the conversation as well. Without that question right up front, what would make this a good conversation? You don’t have permission to interrupt elegantly, professionally, and skillfully.
I had a question and then now thinking about this scenario that I read in the book and it happened to me as well. Before I get to that scenario, I did want to ask, what do leaders get wrong in your professional experience having worked with so many of them? What do they get wrong when it comes to communicating with their team or listening to their direct reports? What do you see as a pattern that happens?
Rather I call it unproductive. I don’t think it’s wrong. We need to be careful with the right and wrong labels. That’s too easy to judge. Where the work is and where the highest yield return is, most leaders are listening for similarities and where they can improve is by exploring differences. If you are an engineer who’s been trained, you are trained in rational sequential evidence-based mindsets.
When you hear somebody say something that doesn’t fit in that pattern, most leaders will try and drag that person into this way of thinking as opposed to, “Let me fully explore where they are going with this. Let me ask some questions that contextualize this a little bit more.” Rather than jumping to conclusions, they go, “This conversation is a waste of time. I can solve it pretty quickly.” This is what a lot of leaders do because they think time pulls.When you hear somebody say something that doesn’t sit well with you, do not try to drag them into your way of thinking. Instead, fully explore where they are going with their point. Click To Tweet
Some questions that are going to help that speaker when we are exploring differences. If our competitor heard what we were saying right now, which bit do you think they’d be worried about? If our competitors heard this conversation right now, what would they giggle and laugh about? If a regulator, government, or media heard this, we are trying to get them outside and exploring different contexts.
If we are in a different country and somebody heard this and then all of a sudden the leaders are starting to listen differently and they are helping the speaker to say the idea in a different way as well. My invitation to leaders is whether you are a lawyer, engineer, or doctor, you are all trained to patent match and that will only get you so far. That will work well in predictable sequential systems, but most of us are dealing with dynamic fluid and organic systems. The more senior we are and the more critical it is for us to listen differently.
This conversation can go on and on and on. Tell us the difference between deep listening and active listening. I also wanted to know if we have been trained to say back what someone said to almost show that we have heard what they have said. The technique of repeating what someone else said. How does that fit into all of this as well? Deep listening versus active listening and repeating what you said is a way of proving that I did hear you.
What you have asked me to answer readers and this is the term paraphrasing. Could we take a quick commercial break for leaders to ask questions? When you ask a question, ask one at a time with the person that you are working with. Then the reason you are asking one at a time, the answer they may provide may provide a different context for you to ask the second question. My first question back is simply this. You have asked me two questions, which question would you like me to prioritize first?
Deep listening versus active listening.
Very simple. Active listening, listening to what people say the first time. Deep listening, listening to what people haven’t said. Second one, paraphrasing. A lot of people will say words like what I heard you say is or what I understood you say is. That’s your point of view. That’s not what they said. To be effective, paraphrasing should be neutral and short.
If you are trying to paraphrase somebody who’s spoken 40 words, the likelihood you will accurately paraphrase the 40 words is 0. Let me bring you into a boardroom where I was working with a client. Lovely lady. Very polished English accent. She led a very substantial professional development and professional services firm. She said, “I am so frustrated with the public sector division. They are always anemic in their growth. They are always the most difficult to work with. They are always the most costly to bid on.” I’m paraphrasing the point she was making, not the whole dialogue.
When you are a great leader, you will listen to these phrases called absolutes. These are phrases like always, never precisely, and exactly. When people give you these code words, what they are telling you is this is the edge of my thinking. It’s the edge of my mental model. I can’t experience the world beyond that so I put these phrases around it.
You will hear children say this all the time when they are arguing with their parents. For example, “You always make me do that, mommy,” and phrases like that. Back in the room. As I said the word always. She paused. She looked up in the corner of the room and she was like a machine gun up until that point. The pace she was talking was so fast. Just pause. She looked up and she said to me, “Not always.” I said, “Are you open to playing a game?” She said no. I was like, “Are you open to an experiment?” “Yes.”
She’s very much of an evidence background. I said, “Let’s do an experiment. Imagine all those customers from the public sector that you are very frustrated with. Line them up in a room from left to right with the ones that grow the most and are easiest to deal with at one end of the room, and the ones that frustrate you the most at the other end of the room.” She said, “I can do that experiment.”
I said, “Are the ones on the left always like the ones on the right?” She said, “No. Not always.” I said, “Okay. What are the ones on the left that grow a little bit more?” She said, “They are more commercial. They are more deliberate. They back more like a commercial organization than a public sector organization.”
Then you could see there’s a light bulb go on above the head and she said, “They shouldn’t even be in our public sector business unit, should they?” I said, “I don’t know.” She said, “I’m going to go and reorganize this.” I said, “Maybe have a chat with your team before you do that.” Twelve months later, they move only 4% of the customers out of this group into a different group.
They see phenomenally more growth in that group because they started to treat them like commercial customers rather than public sector customers. After all, we heard the word always in conversation. Back to the question about paraphrasing. Paraphrasing should be neutral, and relevant, and should pick out the essence. It usually is an adjective and a descriptive word. I was working with a group of engineers who describe the project as a never-ending political project and all these wonderful adjectives that sat around that.
We played that. It’s an interesting experiment with them as well. Paraphrasing, “Alicia, could you pass me the salt?” “Oscar, did you ask me to pass you the salt?” It’s very performative. It has its place when you are early in a relationship and you are trying to create some rapport but use it carefully because, in a lot of cases, people paraphrase their interpretation, not what the person said. For them to feel heard, they need to hear back literally in their own words. Make it safe for you. Pick out 1 or 2 words.
That makes me think about the case in the book that you talked about where this person went to the doctor and was hoping not to hear the words. She was hoping to hear benign. Hoping to hear that it wasn’t cancerous and sitting there. Then the doctor says that it is cancer and goes on a complete process of what comes next without taking that moment to even recognize if it’s landed with her and what she needs at that moment without expressing empathy at that moment.
A similar situation happened to me where it wasn’t the diagnosis because I had gotten the diagnosis beforehand. It was going to the surgeon, and now everything that the surgeon was expressing to me was all on her schedule, on her timeline, and her, “What you need to do next because my schedule is this and because I need you to do this?”
It was all about her and nothing about what I was experiencing. As I was sitting there and not responding, she kept saying, “You do realize that you have cancer. You do realize this and we need to move now. We need to move quickly.” I took a minute and said, “I need to process this and I need to digest this. I will let you know,” and I found someone else to work with.
I have spoken to a lot of women who have had this incident where they felt rushed into surgery. They felt rushed into the radiation and they felt rushed into doing all these things because the doctor was putting them on their timeline and not giving them. Even when it’s aggressive, you still need a minute. It’s not going to change something if you take a minute and recognize where I am in the conversation before you continue down the path of telling me what to do next.
When we talk about the example of that language. You do realize you have cancer. No, you don’t. You have a cancer diagnosis.
I just told her. Yes, I understand the diagnosis.
For a lot of medical professionals, they need to be careful to make the illness of the person. If they are not conscious of the language, that’s what they do and they don’t help the patient become part of their solution. In all those cases that are interviewed, a number of medical leaders and trainers say one of the things they do is make sure that when they do that they are pointing to an image and pointing the image explaining the problem, otherwise the human thinks they are the problem.
When you communicate and listen in that way, the patient becomes part of their recovery much faster. That as you pointed out, is until they have had time to make sense of what they have heard. A good doctor, specialist, or nurse will check-in. The first check-in question is, “What do you want to get out of this consultation?”
A lot of times it’s got nothing to do with this, that, the booking, the radiation, and all of those things. They are very mechanical. They are not listening in any way whatsoever. As interesting research says that it only takes 43 seconds before a medical practitioner will interrupt a patient and they say what they say the very first time when they turn up. “What brings you here today?” Off they go and within 43 seconds. “I know what to do. Off we go.”
On the flip side, I interviewed a wonderful doctor in England and in her early career, told a wife that her husband had died of cardiac arrest or a heart attack at work, and they couldn’t resuscitate him. She got punched in the face by a 65-year-old woman who was the wife, and she didn’t realize why. She didn’t understand it, but she understood why later on.
For many of us, if we don’t listen carefully to people dealing with significant changes in their life, you are going to get punched in the face literally or metaphorically. In this case, you metaphorically punched the surgeon in the face because you took your disease somewhere else. You picked somebody else who would listen.
I resonated with that story in the book because I experienced it and I’m not the only one who has experienced that. I know other women have as well. The work that you are doing is essential, vital, and needed in every area no matter what field you are in because listening is an opportunity to grow, develop, and work smarter and better together as teams and leaders. It can be the difference between life and death as you have shared with us.
Can you share with us as we are coming to a close of the three-minute exercise because I did it? I was on my way to do a training with a leadership team and before we did our training, I implemented the three-minute exercise where we breathe and notice our thoughts. Can you talk about that a little bit and the purpose and the power in it?
I will do you a deal. I will tell the story if you tell us what you think happened differently for that group as a result of doing this exercise. It’s a version of the tuning exercise. It’s tuning into yourself before you go into a conversation. It’s a controlled shutdown visually, verbally, and viscerally. You want to be connected to your body and then ask yourself for a period or three minutes, “What am I not listening to?”
In your context, it was probably, what am I not listening to in this group? It equally could have been, what am I not listening to in myself or the person who was hosting you for that meeting? The purpose of it is to bring our consciousness to ourselves so we can create space for the conversation to land in a productive way rather than a pool table where you hit the white ball and all the balls go scattered and everything bounces around. We want to be a little bit more present so we can notice body language signals. We can notice who’s talking and who’s not. We can notice not what is said but how it’s said as well.
When we bring this consciousness because we need to understand listening is a full-body experience. Active listening is done with your eyes and your ears. Deep listening is done with your full body. When I interview Dr. Evelyn and her work, she was completely deaf and an amazing percussionist. She takes her shoes off when she performs so she can fill the entire vibrations of not the instrument but the room and the audience as well. Evelyn Glennie in that case taught me that listening is being present to yourself first and then being present to what’s happening all around us. When we do this, how did it change the group performance for you?
This was the first time I was with this group and I knew before that there were some conflict issues. Everyone in the room, I felt like there was a calm in the room. People were paying attention to what was going on because I framed it from the beginning that you are going to be distracted. Your mind is going to wander. Don’t try to stop it from wandering. Notice when it’s wandering and then bring it back.
Be present enough to recognize when you start thinking about what’s for lunch, what are they doing over in the machine shop, and what is happening over there. Bring it back to where we are right now and what we are trying to accomplish. An interesting thing happened is, we were using Kolbe. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the Kolbe strengths, but we were talking about Kolbe, and this is during the training. We were about to do a physical challenge with them. We were going to play a physical game.
Before that, I was showing them certain people’s strengths and I said, “If you need them to physically build anything, these are the people you call on.” Then I segued into, “This is what we are going to do. We are going to be building this stuff. Whoever builds the fastest wins. It’s a competition.” Then there were two teams and the team leaders were choosing the members of their team and one person, she chose all these particular people.
At the end of the task, they won. I asked her, “Why did you choose them to be on your team?” She said, “Right before you told us what we were doing, you said, ‘If we wanted anybody to build, choose these people.’ Then we went in and you said, ‘We are going to be building something.’ These were the people that I chose first.” I said, “You were listening to me.” She’s like, “Yes.” The other group said, “We missed that completely and we didn’t hear that.” I said, “There you go. That’s what it is when you listen.” She took action on what it is I said. That was interesting and they won.
Well done. Thanks for experimenting with the idea and showing how I can create completely different performances in groups.
I usually have a series of rapid-fire questions, but this has been such a great conversation that I want to leave it there. I want to make sure that we have all the resources. Your book, we are going to put it on a slide at the end of this show. In your book, we have these wonderful playing cards that you sent me. As we are wrapping up, tell us what’s the best use of playing cards.
You the practice cards, or you can use the by yourself. You can use them in pairs. You can use them in training exercises. You can use them in groups. They have been used in prisons, by school principals, bank tellers, and pharmaceutical executives. Each card has got on one side of the card a concept that you might choose to practice. You might choose to explore the question on the back of the card. That may be a question for yourself or it may be a question for the person you are in a conversation with. We recommend that you use the card for a period of 1 to 3 weeks so you consolidate the learning on that. The cards are organized into the five levels of listening, which we haven’t even touched on.
I know and I wanted to ask you about that too.
We will come back another time and do that. The cards are organized in a way based on the evidence in our database about what gets in people’s way. The majority of the cards are organized at level 1 and level 2. I would recommend picking a card from level one that you go, “I could work on that for 1, 2, or 3 weeks.” Show it to somebody you trust and say, “I’m working on this and I’m listening.” Point out when I’m doing that well. Highlight when I may not have done that as well as I could have. That’s a simple way to use the listening cards in action.
It will be fun to do as a family.
Remember all of this is research for workplaces. Please don’t use this in any family context. I don’t want any people saying they got divorced because they listen.
Yes. It’s for work context, but with your kids, if you have teenagers, it might be helpful too.
It will. Teenage boys listen very differently from teenage girls. Teenage boys communicate very differently from teenage girls as well.
We didn’t get into the gender, culture, and five levels of listening. There are so much.
The most practical step for everybody is simply this. Visit ListeningQuiz.com and take the seven-minute listening quiz. Most people finish it in four and a half minutes. You answer 20 questions, and you get a 5-page report. It tells you what your primary and secondary listening barriers are and gives you three tailored tips based on that what to practice for the next 90 days.
That’s wonderful. Thank you so much, Oscar. I appreciate it. Yes. We will have you come back and we will talk about all the things we didn’t get to touch on because there’s so much about listening. We need to know these things so that we can have productive and profitable workplaces where we know how to handle conflict in a respectful way that’s not creating more conflict, but we listen to one another and we hear what’s not said more than what is said. Thank you for your time. Thank you so much over in Sydney, Australia. Thank you so much for reading this. I encourage you to go out there and lead yourself, lead your teams, and lead your organization with audacious confidence. Until next time. I will talk to you next time.
About Oscar Trimboli
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