How to Listen for Peak Performance and Effective Decision-Making

Getting to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depend on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversation!-Judith E. Glaser

Using navigational listening, the art of knowing how to listen and how listening affects performance can make us better executives. Listening is not an end in itself, but part of a chain of processes that ends in a decision, strategy, or change in behavior or point of view.

Salespeople listen for customer concerns.  Lawyers listen for the opposing speaker’s faulty logic. Freudian psychiatrists listen for unconscious motivations.  These bits of information are important for the listeners to do their jobs successfully.

Training has taught them not to listen at face value and to use the time lag between their hearing and their subsequent reply to properly evaluate what is being said.  At the same time, they don’t dismiss their emotional response to the speaker, their “feel” for the situation or their hunch of what might happen next.

A framework telling them how to influence a person from Point A to Point B also guides these professionals.

In sales, the marketing rep wants to influence a customer from a point of no interest to a commitment to buy.  The lawyer tries to influence the jury to his or her point of view.  The psychiatrist works to influence the patient toward new insights about personal behavior, motivations or view of the world.

The Untrained Navigator

We hear − 1/7th as fast as we think − about one unit of hearing to five units of thinking.  Obviously, the mind has the opportunity and the time to construct questions, inferences, assumptions, and associations as we listen; but are we using this time wisely?

Traditionally, ineffective listening has been viewed as a hearing problem. However, as we gain important new information about the effects of this uniquely human process of hearing on the effectiveness of an organization, we can recognize that ineffective listening is our most vital management/leadership challenge. Consider some of these common types of listening behaviors in business:

“Noise in the Attic” Listening

Ineffective listening that weakens our influence

Noise in the Attic listening tends to develop from childhood experiences.  As youngsters, how many of us heard: “Don’t talk while I’m speaking!”  “Don’t interrupt me!”  “Don’t ask so many questions!”  “Why?  Because I said so!”

Conditioned by these long−ago warnings, many of us in business unconsciously turn off our minds − and potentially good habits of inquiry.  Instead of trying to clarify the speaker’s intent, we sometimes end up preoccupied with our own internalizations:  “Who does she think she is?”  “I can do his job better than he can.”  Or, sometimes we find ourselves planning a trip, remembering a pleasant experience, or even mentally completing a thought left dangling from another conversation… returning from time to time to listen to what is being said.  Sound familiar?

“Face Value” Listening 

The problem with taking information at face value without questioningSometimes, we think we are hearing facts, when actually the words we’re hearing are interpretations of events being described.  In Face Value listening, the listener isn’t mentally “checking back” into the real world to see whether the words really explain what they purport to explain.

Words are heard more for their literal meanings rather than as tools for understanding. This explains why executives, managers and staff can differ dramatically in their perceptions.

“Position” Listening

bad listening for your position within an organizationThe business environment has its own unique listening problems. Employees who are alert for clues about their performance or where they stand, are often victims of Position listening; this highly partial form of listening can be extremely harmful to good communications.

A manager might listen to her president’s annual report to determine whether her division will be growing. What she hears could easily affect her performance during the year as well as her relationships with coworkers. She will listen to immediate superiors to determine her role.  Obviously, Position Listening can lead to faulty assumptions and can destroy the morale of a well-managed and high performing team.

Navigational Listening 

When driving some place new, we think nothing of stopping at a gas station for a map so we can navigate in unfamiliar territory.  In doing this, we learn “how to,” so the roads can be navigated efficiently and with less chance of becoming lost.  If we get lost, we need only refer back to the map to find our way. Listening can be approached the same way.

The Executive as Navigational Listener

how to listen and communicate well at workIn business, to be the best executive you can become you need to learn to listen to use navigational listening to work more effectively with others. How are you helping others achieve their goals? How does your listening influence that journey? Who do you need to influence to move quickly from Point A to Point B and why?  Where is this conversation going and how does your listening enable a greater achievement of your goals with others?

Do a personal audit this month. 

how you influence while you are listeningNotice how you listen. Notice how you influence while you are listening. Watch how changing your listening to more consistently navigate with others changes your ability to achieve success with others.

Judith GlaserJudith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is one of the most innovative and pioneering change agents, consultants and executive coaches in the consulting industry – and refers to herself as an Organizational Anthropologist.

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