Monday, August 6, 2012

Are You a Good Listener?

By Virgil Carter
Listening is one of the secrets for good decision making.  It’s listening that enables one to gather facts and assess the issues.  Good listening is an active and disciplined activity to gather and assess information, and a key to building a base of knowledge for insights and good decision-making. 

“The Executive’s Guide to Better Listening”, by Bernard T. Ferrari, in a recent McKinsey Quarterly suggests that “good listening…can often mean the difference between success and failure in business ventures (and hence between a longer career and a shorter one).”  Ferrari notes that most executives spend little time cultivating listening.  He describes three kinds of behavior that will improve one’s listening skills and those of one’s organization.

·         Show respect:  Our conversation partners often have the know-how to develop good solutions, and part of being a good listener is simply helping them to draw out critical information and put it in a new light.  Leaders should also respect a colleagues potential to provide insights in areas far afield from his or her job description.

·         Keep quiet:  Ferrari’s 80-20 guideline is that a conversation partner “should be speaking 80 percent of the time, while I speak only 20 percent of the time.  Moreover, I seek to make my speaking time count by spending as much of it as possible posing questions rather than trying to have my own way.”  Ferrari points out that “you can’t really listen if you’re too busy talking!”

·        Challenge assumptions:  Good listeners seek to understand—and challenge—the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation.  Many executives struggle as listeners because they never think to relax their assumptions “and open themselves to the possibilities that can be drawn from conversations with others”, Ferrari writes. 

Ferrari concludes by noting, “Throughout my career, I’ve observed that good listeners tend to make better decisions, based on better-informed judgments, than ordinary or poor listeners do—and hence tend to be better leaders.  By showing respect to our conversation partners, remaining quiet so they can speak, and actively opening ourselves up to facts that undermine our beliefs, we can all better cultivate this valuable skill”.  Are you and your senior executive team good listeners?

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