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The power and impact of simply listening

October 1, 2020
clock 5 MIN READ

A while back my wife got me a book called Competing Against Luck, written by one of my favorite authors, Clayton Christensen. The focus of the book, like many of Christensen’s books, was strategy and innovation, and this one introduced me to the “Jobs to be Done Theory.” It focused on innovation around the customer, asking ourselves what “job” the customer has hired our product/service to do. It is a great book and I highly recommend it. 

Listen! I think she’s trying to tell me something

Christensen suggests we apply this theory to all aspects of our lives, even our marriages. (Hang on, had my wife read this book before she gave it to me? Is there a “subtle” hint here? I assumed this was merely an innocent coincidence and read on.) He recommends you ask yourself what job has your spouse “hired” you to do. I had to really think about this. And then it dawned on me. In my case, my spouse hired me to “listen.” She always says things to me like, “I don’t want you to solve the problem, just listen,” or “let me finish before you jump to a conclusion,” or “I can tell by your expression you have already decided x or y.” But reading Christensen’s words was profound for me and the light bulb went off. The job my wife most cares about is my ability to listen to her. 

After giving this thought, I decided to “test” my theory. So I went right to the source. I asked her what job she had hired me to do. I’ll be honest, initially she looked at me like I was crazy (more so than usual) but hey, it was validation that she had not read the book or have an ulterior motive! When she didn’t answer I asked her if she hired me to “listen.” Her body language said it all. It said “you finally understand.” Actually, it kind of said “What the heck? It only took you 23 years, 3 kids, and countless pets, but I think you get it now.” What can I say, I am a slow learner. But I do learn. And this particular realization changed the way I approached both our discussions and my reactions. It impacted how I managed my emotions, non-verbals and responses. It takes constant work and I’m not perfect, but I am better, and the wife has validated this statement.

Becoming a great listener is work

The power and value of listening makes so much sense in many relationships. The best leaders are great listeners and they ask thoughtful questions. While this was the “job” my wife needed me to do, it is also a key ingredient of good leadership. Earlier in the year, a friend and colleague shared an article with me. I didn’t have a chance to read it until recently. The article was called Do You Know How to Listen? Oh boy, I feel a pattern. But again, I’m positive it was merely an innocent coincidence…I think. 

When I read the article it reinforced what I was already striving to practice. A bold statement captured my attention quickly: “Listening comes from a position of strength. Telling comes from a position of fear and control.” So how do we make sure we are on the right side of that equation? 

The article has a lot of great ideas but I especially like the section on “active” listening. Active listening is an analytical exercise that requires all of your senses. You need to pay attention to tone, non-verbals, words spoken and unspoken, etc. Listening is a reciprocal exercise. You have to be able to demonstrate that you understand by mirroring back what others say.  

The best leaders are great listeners and they ask thoughtful questions

During the pandemic, I have found I’ve become a better listener — I have to be. I owe it to my team, colleagues and clients as a business leader, to help them navigate a changing world. And let’s be honest, our actions are amplified in this new world. For example, when we’re on video calls, which we are most of the day, it is very clear how engaged others are. And when you jump to a conclusion or speak over someone else, you have an immediate sense of how that made someone feel. We no longer have a proverbial mirror shining back on us, we have an actual view of ourselves and our audience’s reaction. It’s humbling sometimes, but if we are willing, we can learn from it and improve. Video conferences have slowed my response time during meetings and conversations. They have required me to listen more intently. 

It turns out there is a science and discipline to listening. The article reinforced a lot of what I was already practicing, but it also made me more aware of the tactics and skills needed to become an even better listener, such as empathetic listening and asking questions. The latter is a big part of successful listening. In fact, good questions can open up conversation and dialogue, often taking conversations to places you may have otherwise missed. Just be sure your line of questioning seeks to understand and not to judge. 

I’m listening…are you?

It’s kind of crazy how much listening can positively (or negatively) impact every relationship in life. Christensen’s book and this article teach us that listening really is a science. I hope to continually improve in this area and I encourage all leaders (and spouses, children, parents, brothers, sisters and friends) to do the same. We will be a stronger community as a result.

Albert Chiaradonna

Executive Vice President, SEI Global Private Banking

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