Lead Through Listening
By David Benzel
Dad was waiting in the parking lot at
the usual time. As the basketball players left the gym, he noticed
his 10-year-old’s head hanging low. When his son jumped in the car,
and slammed the door, the father asked, “How was practice?”
The boy replied, “I hate my coach.” This kind of response did not
sit well with Dad. Three thoughts rushed to his head, all fighting
to be delivered in a correcting tone. First, “I’ve taught you not
to speak so disrespectfully about any coach or adult.” Second, “Are
you kidding? This guy is a great coach – one of the best!”
Third, “Do you have any idea how hard I worked to make sure you were
placed on this guy’s team?” For some reason, Dad chose not to speak
any of those condemning thoughts, and instead three words came out
of his mouth, perhaps three of the best words he’d ever accidentally
said: “Tell me more.”
His son went on to explain the events
that took place during practice. Dad knew he wasn’t getting the
whole story yet, so he added, “What else happened?” Eventually –
and it took a little while – they got to the part where the son
admitted to getting side-tracked during practice, got caught goofing
off during one of the drills and was reprimanded for it. In the
final analysis, his young son was so embarrassed by the coach’s
reprimand in front of the other players that it led him to declare,
“I hate my coach.”
The point is this: Dad’s first, second
and third thoughts – if delivered immediately –would have missed the
mark by a mile. They were totally irrelevant in view of the facts,
which would never have been revealed if he’d blurted out his
all-knowing speech. He had been guilty more than once of jumping the
gun with a quick response, but he learned so much more on this
occasion with just three little words: “Tell me more.” The complete
story gave him much more insight into his son, how he thinks and how
As a business leader, you have the same
responsibility a dad has to his son – listen, get the facts,
determine the problem, and help resolve the situation. Listening is
an art and a skill. It requires discipline and focused attention.
When you give the gift of silence, you allow others the chance to
think and process their thoughts. The time required to do this
varies tremendously, depending on whom you’re talking to.
When it comes to sharing thoughts and
feelings about an event, there are two very different types of
personalities. In both cases, the “tell-me-more” approach works
well, but the timing needs to be different.
The Fast-Twitch Responder: Some
people tend to think their thoughts out loud for everyone to hear –
often in a very blunt fashion – then they do the editing in public,
too; “Here’s what I really mean”, or, “Let me rephrase that.” They
might revise their initial version of the facts several times.
Typically, they quickly offer the information you’re seeking so it
may seem as though very little patience is required on your part.
They don’t make you wait very long, yet immediately jumping in with
your assumptions drawn and conclusions blazing will most often prove
to be a mistake. This conversation is a work-in-progress for this
quick responder, and it’s far more prudent for you to deliver a
well-timed, “Tell me more” or an “…and then what?” The additional
information you receive next will be worth the wait, as feelings and
thoughts become clearer in the mind of this fast-twitch responder.
The Slow-Twitch Responder: Other
people tend to process everything internally, preferring not to
share the end result until it is edited and refined to a finished
product. These people never share a verbal “rough draft.” The new
stimuli they receive in conversations enters a processing chamber
where it is kept, considered and condensed into manageable
material. This takes time and requires patience by those who
eagerly await an explanation or a report about what’s going on.
Impatience at this point will cause the listener to jump straight
into “tell” mode, as in, “Let me tell you what I
think.” The lecture the listener delivers is usually not
appreciated nor helpful. On the other hand, patience combined with
thoughtful silence will usually produce a concise account of true
feelings and ideas from a slow-twitch responder.
To gain credibility, learn to give
space and time to others before making your verbal contribution.
Give the gift of silence and let people consider their actions and
their words. Use phrases like: “Tell me more.” “What else?” “What
then?” “How so?” “What did that mean to you?” “How are you feeling
now?” These phrases will prompt more information, which will give
you a detailed understanding of people and situations. Not only
will this build trust, but it will also keep you from making
incorrect assumptions about people and events.
Find an opportunity to use the phrase,
“Tell me more.” Resist the temptation to respond with your own
thoughts until you allow them to tell you what’s on their minds.
The only assumption worth having is one when you expect there’s more
to the story, not one when you think you have all the answers. Nine
times out of ten, your best guess about the truth will never be as
rich as the story you need to hear.
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