Are you ready to ask the tough questions

Listening is at the heart of every positive working relationship, every successful sale, every productive team, and every act of true customer service. It’s even at the heart of every good marriage.

The bad news is most people have never truly been taught HOW to listen. So they only listen to a small fraction of what is being said, remember even less of what they heard, and often misunderstand the rest.

The good news is you can learn to listen more powerfully and more effectively. And once you learn HOW to do this, your payoffs will be HUGE.

That’s why I devote one of the twelve keys in my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program to the mastery of listening, in general, and the practice of Brave Questions, in particular.

Those who try it report phenomenal results. For example, they tell me how they achieve more understanding in a few minutes than they had achieved in several months back on the job. Instead of seeing one another as difficult people they wanted to avoid, they begin to see each other as team members who need support and understanding.

Tom Bronkowski is one such example. Tom attended my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program for a pharmaceutical company. Sometime later, he sent me the following email:

“You really never know what is going on in the lives of your customers or coworkers. Your Brave Question technique taught me that. As a manager of twenty-five employees, I decided to try it. I shared some misfortune I was having and asked my employees some Brave Questions about their situations.”

Tom said he started by telling his staff:

“I have a two-year old son with a terminal illness which has no known cure. The fatality rate is 50% per year after diagnosis. So he is not expected to make it out of his early childhood years. A few weeks ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. And it has taken me six months to tell you all this.”

He said:

“I then asked a few Brave Questions, and I learned some unbelievable things. I learned one employee has a 42-year-old husband that needs bypass heart surgery. They have a 5-year-old son.”

Another employee has a father she cares for at her home that cannot eat or care for himself. She leaves work and cares for him at night.

One employee’s mother has congestive heart failure and they are investigating her options.

One employee has an overactive thyroid that requires surgery. She came out successfully but was told she may lose her speech.

One employee’s sister has breast cancer and requires a mastectomy. Another employee’s sister has a bad heart valve and requires surgery to correct it.

“As a manager, the lessons I have learned over the last year from your Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program and the Brave-Question technique have changed me forever. We all have lives away from work. I’ve learned that employee performance issues may go much deeper than what I see on the surface. I’m now taking time to develop relationships with my employees so I can bring out their best, no matter what their situation.”

(PS: A while back, I announced and led my last, live, two-day, in-person Journey-to-the-Extraordinary experience. The requests to bring it back have been non-stop. So a heads-up to all of you. I will deliver a VIRTUAL Journey this fall and will soon announce the dates and early-bird registration discounts. To read about it, click here.

To get you started on the path of better listening and asking more Brave Questions, I suggest the following.

► 1. Refrain from interruption.

Refrain from the all-too-common practice of hearing a few words and then jumping in with your response. It’s a sure sign that you’re not listening and you don’t care that much about the other person’s comments.

Interruptions seem to be especially tempting when someone comes to you with a problem. We often want to jump right in and give advice.

As one person joked, we should all swap problems–because we all seem to know how to solve the other person’s problem. More often than not, however, the other person simply wants you to listen patiently.

► 2. Stay with the speaker.

Focus on what someone is saying. Don’t think about what you’re going to say when the other person is finished.

It’s like tennis. When you’re playing, you should watch the ball. It doesn’t work if you’re thinking about your next play. You’ve got to watch the ball as it’s coming towards you.

If you’re in a business environment, one way to stay with the speaker is to take notes–when appropriate. Note-taking will decrease your daydreaming and increase your retention. You will get 20% more from a meeting if you take notes.

► 3. Ask Brave Questions.

Listening is not a sit-back, do-nothing, say-nothing activity. It involves some response on your part–although I did see a cute slogan in the airport the other day. The sign said, “Women like silent men…they think they are listening.”

One of the best things you can do is ask a few questions while you’re listening. It lets the other person know that you are listening and it tells the other person you care about what he is saying.

Not all questions are created equal. In fact, many of our questions on and off the job are functional questions such as “Did Josh Benson phone in his order yet?” or “What time is dinner?” And while it’s important to know the information that functional questions provide, they DO NOT build relationships or teams.

You’ve got to occasionally (and somewhat regularly) ask Brave Questions that go beyond the superficial and reveal the gutsier, more important aspects of what people think, believe, and feel.

It’s a great way to improve your relationships. As a young man, I worked my way through college as a shoe salesman. My manager at the shoe store was a formidable old fellow. He had a bark designed to scare all the sales people into submission.

I discovered this gruff manager had a little granddaughter that he adored. One day I asked him, “How is that nice little granddaughter of yours?” He melted like snow on a hot day. He told me all about her. As I listened, I saw a very thoughtful, loving, joyful part of him I had never seen before. And as I asked more questions and listened over the course of time, he became a tremendous support in my early career days.

Final Thought: When you talk, you repeat what you already know. When you ask Brave Questions and listen, you learn something.