The Power of Active Listening
So why go to all this trouble, right? Why go to all the trouble of trying to learn this difficult skill? It's a difficult skill. That's why a lot of us are just not very good at it. So why should we go to all this trouble? It's one of the most critical skills in work and in life. We've talked here about work situations, we've talked about life situations, relationships with friends, relationships with family. How many families have you seen where there's squabbling, squabbling, squabbling? Nobody is listening. And in the end, they can't even remember what they started arguing about in the first place. So it can help in lots of different situations. And if we're not prepared to understand people and their opinions and ideas, why should we expect them to understand us? It cuts both ways. And that's really about that trust respect inclusion. So if we're not listening to them, why should they listen to us when we have something to say? And that's the biggest thing I think that happens espe...
cially in work meetings when people are just talking over each other. Whether it's on the phone, on video, in person, they have no interest in actually understanding. And we'll talk about that more in the next class that I do about multi-generational teams, but it's really about understanding each other. If we understand each other, then we can listen to each other. And if we understand each other, we can respond in a way that's appropriate and usually when we understand each other we find some commonality where we can start to build a relationship from. So it all starts with listening. If you're an active listener, you're a better communicator, you're a better problem solver and a better leader. So it helps with lots of different things. And I think particularly problem solving for creatives. It's what we do, right? We problem solve. We're looking for solutions. So if we can translate what we do naturally with our work into our interpersonal relationships 'cause a lot of it is looking for solutions. The client might not like exactly what you have presented to them, but if you really listen to them you can find out whether it's a fundamental core issue that they're having or a little tweak we could do that is a totally acceptable tweak. That all comes from listening to them as opposed to as soon as they say no, you're already in your head arguing against them. So here's the kind of list of where we started and where we'll come back to. So active listeners are trusted and respected, they're supportive and understanding, we make people feel valued. And we're valued for our contributions and we instill confidence, 'cause that's how people get confidence. If you're actually willing to listen and not give your opinion, then you must be very sure of yourself. Which is confidence. So I think that's really important. We understand issues. Helps you understand issues and formulate solutions. So again, that goes back to the problem solving and finding solutions, which also leads into conflict resolution and all those good things that we all need in our life and work at some point in time. We're not going to agree with everybody all the time. But at least if we can understand where they're coming from, we can hopefully resolve that conflict. Better understand the problem at least. Which leads us into the helping diffusing the conflict. Take a few moments, let's think of a moment in time or a situation when you really felt somebody heard you. So think of it being on the receiving end of active listening and how that made you feel about yourself and them.
He had a way where he wasn't just saying it's your turn, it was like I really wanna know what you're thinking right now.
She's a professional who is a friend, but when you feel that the person is listening to you, you feel that person care.
You're saying this.
So recently we were going through a medical situation with one of our kids and we had seen several doctors and different specialists and really felt like we weren't being heard and the symptoms that she was having, we weren't heard. And so we did end up at a clinic where we had the opposite. All of sudden they understood what we were saying and validated what we were saying and it's just like this huge relief to feel like you're finally heard.
And what do you think was the difference? Was it the attitude of the doctors or the clinicians? Or just that you--
I don't know if it was the attitude or if it was that they had a different skill set and they were able to understand what was going on at more of a comprehensive level versus people that had just a more narrow perspective I suppose.
So a specialist versus more a generalist or holistic is probably a better word. Interesting. That's a really good example. Because there as you say, it's a life example and I think those are really important. 'cause quite often we can spot those easier because we have an emotional investment. We're emotionally invested in a different way and I'm not saying people are not emotionally invested in their work, but it's different. It's just a different level of emotional investment. Especially if it's your child. There's a way different level of emotional investment there. So being heard is really important. And as you say it makes you feel calmer. Because you're validated so they've heard what you've been saying, they've listened to what you've said and they've come back and given you their opinion based on what you've said. So that validates you and makes you feel good, makes you feel better. The other option which was the first scenario that you went through, just makes you feel more anxious because you're just being brushed aside. That's how you feel, you're just being brushed aside. You're not a doctor or whatever. But whatever the situation is, you just feel as if you're brushed aside. Which makes you feel as if you have no value whatsoever.
And you second guess yourself.
Exactly. You second guess and you start doing the he said, she said, what-ifs. Which just raises anxiety and doesn't make you feel that you actually have a resolution or an answer that you can move forward with too. The other brushing aside just leaves you in limbo, it doesn't conclude anything for anybody. That's a really good example. That's a very good example. Thank you.
I have one. It was part of a training for organizing and we took turns talking, but we couldn't respond with questions. So it seemed like it went on forever, it was probably like three minutes or four minutes just talking. But knowing that other person couldn't ask questions, now it's just funny I think about it now. It really make me feel heard.
Right. So you were talking, but they could not ask you.
They could not talk. So then I wondered like yeah, the anxiety comes from asking the right question, but that doesn't have anything to do with listening.
But you're talking to them, right?
Yeah, we took turns.
But we couldn't ask questions. It was just active listening like engaged as a nodding head.
It's a good way to practice how you learn non-verbal skills, because if you're listening to somebody, quite often we'll go mmm or whatever and you nod your head and you try and sit in an open posture as opposed to like this, right? (chuckles) which a lot of people do. So it's a good way to practice for the person that has to listen as long as they don't shutdown like we were doing in the earlier exercise, where you had to sit there and be totally not interested. So as long as you're talking and they're maintaining presence and showing that they're interested through their body language, it's a good practice. And then if they can ask questions at the end it would be better. (chuckles)
But it makes me wonder if I'm meeting a client for the first time, just say you know what, I'm listening and I won't ask you questions until the end. So if you're wondering why isn't she asking questions, there's a reason that I'm not asking questions right now. So bringing it upfront.
Yeah, absolutely. Because quite often you don't really know what questions you want to ask until you've heard the whole story. 'cause then you have the context to be able to ask the right questions or the questions that you need to ask for clarification or whatever. And it also makes the client feel that you're actually interested in their story, whatever that story may be about the piece of work they want you to do or the issue that they're having, the problem they're trying to solve. So yeah, actually saying upfront what I'd like to do is hear your side first so I'm gonna sit and listen. It makes them feel good. You're interested in them. Which from a client perspective is a good thing. That was a good one.
Okay. So for me I think especially given this course or this talk, it really makes me thing about the VP of Marketing that I worked with 10 years ago at Ghirardelli Chocolate and I was on the marketing team as a art director and designer under his team and this guy, Fabrizio, was the best at actively listening to his whole team I feel like. And he was so successful. I think that was a secret to his success is he created a very successful team and I think it was because he really let people lead in what they knew and he listened and then he asked the right questions and he was always engaged. So I feel like one of the first conversations I had with him was over the menu photography that we were rolling out for the new retail shops and we spent weeks art directing and there was a standstill on the decisions being made will we be using new photography or not and I remember being in a room full of marketers and they wanted to basically hear his side and he wasn't ready to give his insights, he wanted to hear from everybody. And I just remember he said Carla, I haven't heard from you. 'cause he thought we were moving on and he didn't wanna move along until he heard from the the designer and what that thought process was. He asked the right questions, but he really dug in and he really wanted to know and try to gather all the information before he made any kind of decision. And I feel like half of the time I was able to persuade him, I didn't even know where he was leaning towards, but he'd really just give me that nod like oh now this makes sense. And so he was just that person that really made you and empowered you to speak up, but he also inspired you to do your best and he brought out the best in basically his team. And I had many interactions with him, but that's one that stands out for me.
That's a great example. That's a great example of leadership and how active listening really is important for a leadership position. And we're all leaders, we all lead in some form in our lives. Moms are leaders, right? And if we work in our community, we're leaders. If we volunteer, we're all put in leadership positions. And so it just depends what we do with them and that sounds like a fantastic example where typically everybody expects the most senior person to walk in a room and pronounce this is what we're going to do. And everybody just has to sit there and go yes, yes, yes. Not so much these days hopefully these days 'cause there's a little bit less of that vertical hierarchy. But it still exists in a lot of places, the vertical hierarchy. So Fabrizio?
Sounds like he really understood and was really listening in that you could change his mind. Which is really great. So that is a fantastic example of active listening. And the power of it, because as you say it inspired all his team and inspired each of you to do your best. You wanted to probably do even more than your best because you knew it would be valued. And so that's a fabulous example, fabulous example.
It happened to me years ago that I was sharing something personal that I was passing through in those days to a person that was not really a close friend, but you know that it sometimes happens that you just have to share what you have inside with someone. And all of a sudden she was very, very attent to what I was saying, she paid a lot of attention and all of a sudden I started to feel that she was almost more than a friend. So I think that when someone pay attention to what you say makes you feel loved, makes you feel that they care about you. And also make you feel that you have social support and it can definitely change the relationship that you have with a person. So in the personal life it can happen in someone that was not a friend becomes really a friend. And you can count on this person forever.
And that is how we become friends, right? By listening to each other and by understanding each other. Because I don't know about you, but I have friends that are very different from what I and people see us together and are like this is like chalk and cheese. And I was like yeah, but we have this real bond because we have certain things, values that we have in common and we respect those values in each other and therefore we're there for each other. So even though the rest of our lives are very different, that's what the friendship is based on. Most of it starts as listening to each other 'cause that's how you choose whether that person's gonna be a friend or not. It's a good example.
So you feel at home basically. (laughs)
Yes. You feel at home. Goes back to being validated. You saw all different expressions, some more rational, some more emotional, but it's the same feeling that you trust the person, you know they've got your back, you know they're there for you and they'll support you. Whether it's in a business environment like you explained with Fabrizio, or in a personal environment. And actually Laura and I were talking about that. Do you wanna kinda talk through what--
Yeah, well I was saying I guess what comes to mind in terms of situations where I felt like somebody's really listening is often does come from friendship. When you sit down with somebody who comes to you with a problem and it's something personal or you go to somebody with a personal problem, then you generally give each other the space to really listen and go through the process of trying to either make the situation better or make them feel better. So for me that's where I think of situations where you've been heard in comparison to professional situations, because we're going in with more of an objective in a professional conversation perhaps.
Yeah, I mean I think it's a good distinction. There are the conversations as we said the personal ones where you're really emotionally invested. And most of it is actually an emotional response as opposed to even like more of a rational response. In business I think there's a lot more emotional responses than people give credit for. (laughs) The creative process is by nature emotional. But even in what we call the non-creative parts of business, I think people can get just as emotional. It just doesn't necessarily come out that way, it comes out more that people are not listening because they're trying to make sure that the senior person in the room shows that they're contributing. Or that they're trying to justify their position or whatever. And so that's where you get more of this talking over each other. You don't really find that with friends, friends don't really talk over each other 'cause they're listening to each other.
They're their for support.
And they're there for support, right. Whereas in business it's a much more competitive environment and competition will blow any skill out of the water. 'cause we get into that competitive mode and then it becomes me again as opposed to we. So there is a big difference there in terms of where you tend to find active listening. You're less likely to find it in the workplace unfortunately, where we spend most of our time. And much more likely to find it in those special relationships that we have that we really value.