Friday, April 26, 2013

Listening Past My “B.S.– O–Meter”

Forming strategic partnerships was something at which I became pretty good during the latter half of my now-concluded 40-year career in community-destination marketing, or so I was told.

But I had to try very hard to compensate for a blind spot.  Like most deficits that people have, it was due, in part, to a strength.  I have always had what I like to call a very well-calibrated “B.S.-O- Meter.”

I remember trying to collaborate with two colleagues many years ago.  They would meet before hand and come up proposals for my cooperation and then present them to me as though they were “up for discussion.”  They weren’t.

Unfortunately, many of these proposals undermined the mission of the organization I led, but I still tried to sift through them for alternative ways to make things work.

One of these individuals would frequently interrupt me as I raised questions or concerns.  Thinking they were open to free-flowing discussion, I would begin to do the same, only to be lectured by the other person for “interrupting.”

It was frustrating that my best win-win counter-proposals would come to me only later as I turned these exchanges over in my mind looking for something that would work.

The problem, other than being offended at the double standard and being put on the spot by requests they knew were antithetical, was that I needed to be a much better listener.

While reading a newly published book entitled Real Influence, co-authored by two doctors, Mark Goulston an M.D and John Ullman a Ph.D. who teaches at UCLA, I recognized myself in a part of the book that deals with getting past a “blind spot.”

When my “B.S-o-Meter” was on full alert due to somebody’s “self-serving tactics and techniques,” I would often listen “at” them with my “defense up and preparing counterpoints.”

If I was being asked to do something antithetical and the B.S. was running particularly deep, I might even listen “over” the person, which I now know is far more of an insult than interrupting.

The authors of Real Influence have been graciously republishing summaries from the book on the Harvard Business Review blog.  A few weeks ago, when I read the one on listening it dawned on me that the intent I often attributed to those two friends was really due to the fact that they also had difficulty with listening.

They often missed what I was trying to repeatedly explain because they were either “listening over” or using what the authors describe as “problem-solving” listening, where instead of trying to truly understand, they just wanted to check things off the list.

It was a testament to our collective perseverance that the three of us were able to pull off several strategic partnerships.  However, the process was far more exhausting and far less fulfilling than my involvement in many other collaborations over the years.

I like what the authors call “listening of the highest order.” This is described as listening to “other people to discover what’s going on inside them.  It’s listening on their terms, not yours.  It’s understanding where people are coming from to establish genuine rapport.”

Introspection is something that comes easy to me.  Thanks to insights I glean from books and posts such as those authored by Drs. Goulston and Ullmen, even though now-concluded, my career is still teaching me a little bit more every day.

Who knows, maybe even my two long-ago colleagues are listening.

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