Listening is at the heart of all positive working relationships, 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 that 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 a portion of my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary experience to the mastery of listening, in general, and the practice of Brave Questions, in particular.
I encourage the participants to ask Brave Questions. If they are traveling to a conference with a colleague, I suggest they ask a few Brave Questions of one another in order to improve those work relationships. I push them to go beyond the normal topics of quarterly reports and who wore what at the office.
Those who try this technique report phenomenal results. 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.
(The next Journey will be in Chicago on November 10-11, 2016. As a subscriber to my Tuesday Tip, you qualify for the $500 Early-Bird Registration Discount now. Just click here to register now.)
Tom Bronkowski is one such example. Tom attended my Journey 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 and the Brave Questions 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.”
In a continuous flow of letters, emails, and phone calls, the feedback is the same. The Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program and the Brave Question technique work.
Of course, there are 12 keys taught at the Journey, and this is just one of the 12. But I want you to start learning how to use this key right now.
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 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.
Robin Stankoff says she uses the Brave-Question technique a lot, and in her words, “It’s a great way get smartphone kids engaged in real discussions.” Ever have that problem in your household? Probably so. And this may be the answer you’re looking for.
In Robin’s words,
“My in-laws were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I wrote Brave Questions onto slips of paper and placed them in a brown paper bag and asked everyone present to draw one. We went around the room and as everyone read the questions my in-laws answered the questions. We learned who had taught them how to drive a car, what their favorite toys were growing up, and so much more. It really made the day memorable and special. My in-laws enjoyed being the center of attention and sharing about themselves, and the kids (and the rest of us) were fascinated by the answers. Thanks for creating such a neat tool for kicking off conversations!”
Of course, people tell me they want to learn this technique as well. And there are a few steps you’ll need to master to become super proficient at Brave Questions. But you can learn.
(In addition to attending my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program, you will find great value in my book, BRAVE QUESTIONS: Building Stronger Relationships by Asking All the Right Questions.)
4. Use Encouraging Non-Verbals.
Talkers want to know that you’re listening, so give some subtle nonverbal feedback. Say such things as, “Uh-huh… I see…Oh yes…Mm Mm.”
Sometimes the other person may be sharing some feelings, and you don’t know what to say. Simply nod your head as a sign that you are following along. Resist the temptation to say something just to be saying something.
That’s what the folks in the elevator did, according to Linda Neukrug. She reported the story of two tiny gray-haired ladies engrossed in an animated conversation as they stepped onto a crowded elevator. One of them stated loudly, “Well, my fantasy has always been to have two men at the same time.”
There was complete silence as every passenger in the elevator turned to stare at the woman who made such an intimate disclosure. Then she laughed and said, “One would do the cooking, and the other would do the cleaning.”
Final Thought: When you talk, you repeat what you already know. When you listen, you often learn something.
Building strong relationships is an important skill both on and off the job. With a culture that is more connected but less engaged than ever, your ability to maintain and grow healthy relationships has a huge impact on your success and happiness. That’s why I focus an entire section of my Journey to the Extraordinary on just that – teaching you the skills you need for better relationships.
That’s the good news. The GREAT news is that you still have time to register for my next Journey to the Extraordinary experience AND save $500 off the normal tuition rate. Click the button below to join me in Chicago, Illinois on November 10-11, 2016 for the Journey. I know this will be an experience that you’ll never forget.