I’d like you to listen to me for a few minutes.
Really listen. No phones, no distractions.
No problem, right?
After all, you’ve mastered the art of listening. That’s part of what makes you a great vision master. You can see the future, see the path ahead, imagine what it will be like to get there – and you allow your execution master and the other people on your team to provide their own valuable ideas.
You listen to them. You connect with them through good, active listening. You make them feel important, valued and appreciated when they share ideas. You’re a masterful listener and it’s a key to your success.
Or are you?
Funny thing about listening . . . nearly all of us think we’re good listeners, but few of us truly are and rarer still is the person with real mastery in the art and skill of listening.
Research conducted by Wright State University indicated that 80% of 6,000 respondents categorized themselves as good listeners. But we all know intuitively and in our experience that this simply isn’t the case. And yet a study conducted by George Washington University indicates that listening can influence 40% of a leader’s job performance.
Yet listening is becoming a lost art according to research conducted by Accenture. In the study, 3,600 professionals were surveyed about their listening habits. Multitasking in the modern world turns out to be the number one distractor that inhibits good listening. Two-thirds of respondents said that the constant distraction of texts, emails, phone calls and other interruptions distract them constantly and make deep, focused listening more difficult.
So what does all this have to do with trust and with funding your company?
It’s really simple.
So listen up.
But wait . . .
Do you think you really know how to listen?
A very revealing study conducted by Harvard Business Review indicates that most of us don’t know what it takes to be effective listeners. Here’s what we have all been taught about how to listen well:
- We don’t talk when others are speaking
- We let others know we’re listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds (“Mmm-hmm”)
- We practice being able to repeat what others have said, practically word-for-word
Think of those listening tactics as the standard, bare minimum of listening. If that’s all you do when listening to others, you’re not a master listener. Yet you can learn to be one – and if the research cited above is accurate, learning to be a master listener could have profound implications for the success of your business.
Harvard put listening skills to the test, assessing more than 3.400 business professionals and comparing the listening activities of those rated by their peers in the top 5% of listening ability with those of the average listener. Here is what they found:
- Good listening is more than being quiet when someone else is talking
Masterful listeners ask questions to the speaker that provoke insight and discovery. This is all about literally being over there in another person’s world, so that when they’re speaking you aren’t just absorbing information, you’re actively engaging with what they’ve shared to invoke a deeper cut. Notice how this relates to relationship-building, something we’ve already discussed as being vitally important to eventual funding from an investor.
As a vision master, you already have the proclivity to ask questions – after all, that’s how you’ve made some of your most important discoveries and gained your most valuable insights, right? You’ve questioned “what is” and discovered “what could be” and that’s what drives you forward. So when practicing great listening with a colleague or an investor do the same thing. Ask questions that provoke discovery and come from what the Buddhists call “beginner’s mind.” That’s just a quaint way of encouraging you to put all the many things you know aside and listen for something new.
- Good listeners practice building the speaker’s self-esteem
Masterful listeners create a safe space for dialogue about whatever issue is brought up. This aspect of listening probably has the best value for you with regard to your team. But think of what we’ve covered in past posts about being vulnerable . . . what if your prospective investor chooses to be vulnerable about something, such as the fact that if they back you they’re putting their reputation on the line? Can you listen empathetically to that and respond with something that opens up a deeper interaction about family, legacy and values?
This can have immense value for vision masters because it requires you to simultaneously hold your own context and purpose while remaining open and genuinely interested in the context and purpose of another person. That doesn’t mean that you’re “willing” to listen to another viewpoint on some issue, but simply hear it and filter it through your own thoughts, ideas and opinions on the subject. Anyone can do that. This is about actually hearing another’s view without filtering it through your own – but also without forgetting about your own view.
The idea is that you are consciously creating a space where their ideas and views are genuinely heard, because it builds another’s self-esteem and it forges trust. Once you forge that trust then at some point in a conversation you might find a place to add your own viewpoint and have it be genuinely heard by the other person.
- Good listening involves a cooperative conversation
If you tend to listen to other’s in order to find and assert an objection to what they’re saying, that will do little to build trust and relationship. Masterful listeners typically aren’t trying to “win” the conversation, they’re trying to understand, relate and offer valuable input. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with an assertion made by someone else, even a prospective investor. It simply means that you do so in a way that opens up an area for discussion, rather than close it off based on a “black and white” disagreement.
Tennis provides a good analogy here. Now, in an actual tennis match, both players are trying to win the point obviously. But in a friendly game of tennis that is primarily for, say, fun and exercise, oftentimes a long volley is what’s most fun. You and your partner hit the ball back and forth over the net again and again and again. You’re not really trying to win the point you’re trying to improve your game or just trying to have fun. Good listening can be like that; a back and forth sharing of ideas where the point is discovery, connection, trust-building, and insight.
Contrast that with an all-out effort to win the point. In that case, you’re trying to use all of your skills to blast a serve inches from the net and inches from the out of bounds line so that your opponent can’t do much with it even if they manage to hit it. A good volley is much more interesting and the same is true in a conversation. When your counterpart says something, don’t return serve with the idea of winning the point. Instead, do it with the idea of an ongoing volley and see what opens up in the conversation.
- Good listeners make suggestions
Masterful listeners make suggestions and that may not be “stop the presses” news, but what matters most is the way in which suggestions were offered. Researchers discovered that when listeners engaged in the other three behaviors detailed above their suggestions were more likely to be perceived as valuable.
If you think about those other three behaviors: asking questions that provoke insight and discovery; building the esteem of the speaker; and playing for the long volley instead of trying to win the point – then it’s readily apparent that the suggestions you offer are more likely to be well-received.
Curiously, masterful listeners are actually more likely to be heard themselves.
Think about that . . .
If you listen really well you’re more likely to be heard. Your thoughts, ideas, opinions and suggestions are much more likely to be heard by the other person when they feel heard, respected and cared about.
So as a vision master it will serve you well to be a listening master, if you ultimately want to be heard – in other words, want your great overall vision for the future, for your company, for the world to be heard and understood by others.
In my next post, I’m going to dive into this topic more deeply. Because I don’t want you to get the idea that being a great listener is a strategy to get heard more. Don’t think of it as strategic. Think of it as something you need to work on and develop for its own sake. You’ll end up being heard more often and more deeply by others and that’s great. But what’s more important is that you’ll gain deep trust among people – including investors – and you’ll develop one of the most important skills of a great leader.
Key takeaway: Most people think they’re good listeners, but research proves that most of us really aren’t. Masterful listening is a skill you can work to build and you build it within conversations as you consciously work to ask questions that provoke insight and discovery, build the esteem of others and have a goal of creating trust and connectivity, rather than trying to win the conversation. When you master great listening, you’ll find that you are actually heard more clearly and more powerfully by others and you are trusted. Trust is the bottom line. As a vision master, this is absolutely crucial to getting your visionary ideas accepted by your team, your investors and the world.