February 23, 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?

Are you a theme player?

Group in discussionSome participants make sure their contributions to the meeting add something to the main thread of the dialogue. You can tell they are mindful of the main direction of the subject at hand, and see it as bigger than any of them individually. They know how to nurture the theme. (You can often tell who they are: They are the ones who usually listen more than they speak.)

On the other hand…

Others want to push their point; to press for a particular approach, even if it distracts and saps energy from the shared process. They seem unaware there is a flow of shared meaning that deserves respect—something separate from any of the individuals present. It’s as if they see only an exchange of statements and questions between people, rather than the development of something additive and greater than the sum of the parts. Because they don’t see anything separate, they can’t begin to nurture the developing picture.

Sure, some gatherings may suit a robust approach, but when it comes to developing something together…

Do you respect the common thread?

In fact…

Are you a theme player?

What do you do with someone who talks about themselves all the time?

Do you have this problem?  You find that certain people just talk about themselves all the time.  You’re happy to listen and attend to them a lot, even much more than half the time when you’re together, but there are occasions when you’d like them to pay attention to you.  What should you do?

I’m often asked about this in the talks I give about my book and the ‘system for people’ it describes.  Clients, colleagues, family and friends ask about it too.  The prompt is usually when I say that one of the biggest things I learned was that to get what we want, we need to help other people get what they want first.

There are lots of way to interrupt the pattern.  Two to highlight are:

Just ask for your turn.  You can say something like: ‘It’s been very interesting hearing about your abc.  Now I’d like to tell you about xyz, because I’d like your help / opinion etc.’  Use ‘because’ to give a reason – a powerful word.

Here’s a more subtle method…

Reward the other person for the behaviour you want them to adopt, even if you haven’t seen them do it yet.  Choose your moment and say something like ‘I really like it when you listen so carefully to what I have to say and give me your opinion about it’, even when they’ve never done that.  You’d think they’d just ignore it or be confused, wouldn’t you, but it’s amazing how they start doing the behaviour you want.  They’re hardly going to say ‘Oh no. I haven’t actually done the thing you’re praising me for.’

It’s a great approach for getting all sorts of things to happen.  Show the other person what’s it going to be like when they do the thing you want them to do.  Then they’ll do more of it.

Having said all that, it’s worth pausing to ask ourselves when and where we go on about our own stuff.  If we notice the behaviour in others, chances are good we do it too.