Dan Erwin: Listening

Why Is Listening Accuracy So Very Difficult?

The obvious reason for listening failure is that people are unaware of listening processes. For example, lots of folk think resolving listening failure is all a matter of listening harder. But research makes it very clear that listening harder barely improves listening. As an exec coach and a specialist in listening, I learned years ago that people don’t understand that listening is actually a process containing several elements.

Got some doubts about that insight? Here’s how I found out about listening ignorance. And learned that very few smart MBAs—even from the top schools--understand that process.

Whatever my client's developmental objectives, whether influence management, strategic thinking, client management, decision processes, bias recognition, or leadership, I usually get around to asking participating interviewees a few very, very basic questions.  
One of the killers is this simple query:  "How effective a listener is my client?"  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I get the innocuous response--"he’s good."  Then I dig in:  Does he repeat what you've said?   Does he clarify or check out what you've said?  Does he summarize or paraphrase what you've said?  Or an even more significant question--to what extent does he verbalize the implications of what's being said? 

After four "nos" in a row, half the interviewees fill in the blanks and say something to the effect that it’s obvious my client may not be as effective as they once thought. The majority of interviewees have a question right at that point. In fact, I’ve found it advantageous to respond to their implicit listening questions.  (When I get three or four “never thought about that” responses, I’m knocking on the door for further business.) Then after confirming their insight, I take the next step—providing research information.  

The research is a shocker. It reveals that a busy manager spends 80% of her time listening to people, . . and still doesn't get half of what is said.

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