February 22, 2018

If you want people to listen…

Group of people listening…let them speak.

It’s quite simple really.

The days of talking at an audience and expecting them to take much of it on board are gone. Expectations have changed: People want a conversation. They want to be heard as well as to hear.

Sometimes we fear initiating a two-way conversation because we might not like what’s said.

The thing is…

The thoughts are there anyway. If we know what they are we are, we’re better off.

We can state up front we may not be able to act on all of what’s said.

People want to be heard. Then they might accept an alternative view. If they’re made to be silent, they probably won’t.


My new book “The Mastery of Leadership” is now available on Amazon.

How do you get someone to listen?

Four people speaking in front of a laptopIt was an informal meeting in a hotel bar with 4 or 5 people present. I’d been asked to say a bit about this myself. This from someone I’d met only a few hours previously. Nothing very unusual about that. What was unusual was the way my short potted history was interrupted by comments, not to say criticism, from the other party. Let’s say my patience was tested, and eventually found slightly wanting.

The thing is…

How do you handle such situations?

Eventually, the other person’s turn to tell their story came, after we’d picked up the pieces, and it might have been tempting to return with interest the earlier challenging.

Instead, I managed to listen intently without interjection (I was tired, which helped), wondering all the while if the contrast was apparent.

The question is…

Does deep listening encourage a speaker to go on and on, or do they “get” that they are being honoured with attention and soon it will be time to return the favour.

In other words, does modelling “deep listening”—an apparently passive activity—encourage the same behaviour in others, whom one might rather imagine would just take advantage of the opportunity to talk all the more?

I find it does. People realise they are called to a higher standard of dialogue.

What’s your experience?

How do you get someone to listen?

New language: Friend or foe?

Informal meetingWe’re at a gathering of professionals…

Some present find some of the language challenging. It doesn’t fit with their culture. They would like some of the words to be changed. They want met at their map of the world… Make what you’re saying fit our understanding, thank you very much.

You can’t help feeling though that the value would then be lost, or at least diluted. Comfort zones would be left safely intact.

Now we’re not talking here about words that would be widely regarded as offensive. No, it’s a more subtle objection to vocabulary that reflects different values and beliefs; words which reflect a different culture, a slightly different take on an area of professional work.

It becomes rather obvious…

Limit the language and you limit the conversation.

Open up to different words and you gain new learning.

On-topic or off-topic?

Informal meetingThey have something to say so they say it, whether it takes the theme forward or not. Sometimes what they say is a distraction sapping energy from the main flow of the dialogue. Eventually progress slows as momentum is lost and participants get tired.

A key role of the leader then is to ensure contributions from the group add to the issue at hand, whilst at the same time being open to truly relevant alternative perspectives, which just might be revelations.

How do you keep a balance? How do you coach people to be mindful of whether they are on-topic or off-topic? How do you keep your contributions relevant yourself?

The difference between dialogue and discussion

Group discussing plansReading David Bohm’s book “On Dialogue,” which, not surprisingly, has a particularly helpful exposition of the difference between dialogue and discussion…

(David Bohm was a renowned physicist of the twentieth century who also made great contributions to wider philosophical questions.)

“Dialogue,” Bohm says, comes from the greek “dialogos.” Logos means “the word,” or in this case, “the meaning of the word,” and “dia” means “through – it doesn’t mean “two.” He goes on: “A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue with himself.” Bohm says dialogue “will make possible a flow of meaning…out of which may emerge some new understanding…which may not have been in the starting point at all.”

“Discussion,” Bohm says, has the same root as “percussion” and “concussion” and “really means to break things up.” Discussion, therefore, is a process of analysing and breaking up and “will not get us far beyond our various points of view.” Rather, “the object of the game is to win or gain points for yourself.”

Dialogue, of course, makes more demands of our ability to participate effectively in a game in which the aim is for everyone to win together. In particular, we must be prepared to question our assumptions and make them explicit, which takes effort when many of them, including the most powerful among them, are held unconsciously.

Being properly clear on the difference between dialogue and discussion is a good start.

When you go into “dialogue,” are you ready for change?

Three people in discussionOne inevitably leads to the other, or should…

Mark is fighting his corner well. Back and forth goes the debate. Mark concedes little. He comes away with most of what he wants. All are tired out and the other side have doubts about engaging with him again. Even now, no-one really understands the whole problem.

John seeks joint learning about an issue. All contribute from their knowledge and experience without taking positions. John insists that all make their assumptions explicit. He leads by example. A mutual understanding of the problem develops. New solutions emerge. John comes away with a little less than Mark in the short run, but the long term result is much greater.

In the jargon of organizational learning, mediation and other fields, Mark is engaged in “discussion” and John is in “dialogue.” With complex problems, dialogue stands the best chance of finding a good solution. The clarity that results is also vital to organizational learning.

So far, so familiar maybe. You probably advocate dialogue yourself.

But here’s the thing…

When we say we want a dialogue about an issue, have we realized that means opening the door to our own change and growth? After all, if the point of dialogue is learning (which it is), then chances are, we’re going to be doing some of the learning, including about our own selves maybe.

If not, are the others going to do all the learning and all the changing? That implies we’re already complete. That’s not likely, surely. In truth, it implies we’re still wedded to our position.

We could make progress by looking to our own learning.

Does dialogue lead to change and growth in your experience? How open to that are you, when you say you want a dialogue?