In this McKinsey article, Bernard T. Ferrari explores three key techniques for better listening and its importance. By showing respect, keeping quiet and challenging assumptions, Mr. Ferrari argues that will create a “base of knowledge that generates fresh insights and ideas. First, show respect. Respect breeds confidence and trust. If you’re a manager, you probably have a complex set of responsibilities. You can’t know everything about every facet of your domain. By respecting your teammates, you will naturally draw them into the conversation and learn from them. If you simply jump to a solution, you short circuit the entire process. Not only do you miss out on any advice about the current situation, you also teach your colleagues not to offer advice in the future. Second, keep quiet. Ferrari suggest a variation of the 80/20 rule — let the other person speak about 80% of the time while you speak only 20% of the time. Many executives struggle as listeners because they never think to relax their assumptions and open themselves to the possibilities that can be drawn from conversations with others.
… But many executives will have to undergo a deeper mind-set shift—toward an embrace of ambiguity and a quest to uncover “what we both need to get from this interaction so that we can come out smarter.” … Too many good executives, even exceptional ones who are highly respectful of their colleagues, inadvertently act as if they know it all, or at least what’s most important, and subsequently remain closed to anything that undermines their beliefs. Third, challenge assumptions. This doesn’t just mean that you challenge other people’s assumptions. It also means that you encourage your colleagues to challenge your assumptions. So it takes real effort for executives to become better listeners by forcing themselves to lay bare their assumptions for scrutiny and to shake up their thinking with an eye to reevaluating what they know, don’t know, and—an important point—can’t know. One of the interesting twists in Ferrari’s framework for effective listening is his “field guide to identifying bad listeners”.
He identifies six “types” of bad listeners: The Opinionator listens to others primarily to determine whether or not their ideas conform to what he or she already believes to be true. Grouches are poor listeners who are blocked by a feeling of certainty that your idea is wrong. The Preambler’s windy lead-ins and questions are really stealth speeches, often intended to box conversation partners into a corner. Preamblers use questioning to steer the discussion, send warnings, or generate a desired answer. Perseverators talk a lot without saying anything. If you pay close attention to one of these poor listeners, you’ll find that their comments and questions don’t advance the conversation. Everyone wants to solve problems, but Answer Man spouts solutions before there is even a consensus about the challenge—a clear signal that input from conversation partners isn’t needed. Pretenders feign engagement and even agreement but either aren’t interested in what you’re saying or have already made up their minds.
This article is particularly aimed at executives. However, it is useful for every person who wants to learn how to communicate better. Ferrari uses very interesting and humorous examples, so it’s easy and interesting to read. I find this article very helpful because I struggle to be a good listener. When I’m engaged in an intense conversation, I’m often framing my response or am thinking about a solution to the problem at hand. Of course, when I’m thinking about something else, I’m not really listening. More importantly, if the other side thinks I’m not listening, they’re less likely to be persuaded to my point of view. Also, I had always thought of questions as being solely an expression of interest and generosity. Now, I am beginning to better understand that questions. Even seemingly friendly inquiries – can be a subtle source of control. We simply can’t listen if we’re talking, even if we are talking by questioning.