The Soft Stuff by Matt Dean helps you to challenge your normal, break the cycle, unleash the power of individual agency. Matt is on a mission to reclaim kindness for the world of work and today we hear from him about the importance of actually listening.
There are whole books written about listening. there’s a reason for that. If I was only allowed to focus on one thing, one skill in my quest to create kinder, fairer, more productive workplaces, it would be how we listen. In modern workplaces, normal for many of us is listening in the way that stressed problem-solvers listen, rather than as people who are curious and want to understand.
The most common explanation for this is time: I simply haven’t got time to listen to his problems. Time pressure is, of course, the enemy of all people management. However, with listening, you have to have enough time to listen. It’s a question of mindset, of how you choose to listen.
I was 14 or 15 when I worked for a few days in an old-fashioned cafe in a South coast resort during the summer holiday. I honestly don’t think it was longer than that, however, I learned many crucial life lessons there. One was how to butter bread properly. Another was the importance of actually listening. Today, professionally, I literally use this knowledge almost every day.
The proprietor was a magnificent Glaswegian woman whose name sadly evades me now, probably 40 years later. She had what you might call a remarkably strong accent. Had she appeared on today’s BBC, her words would probably have been subtitled. But she taught me that it wasn’t for her to change the way she talked; on the contrary, it was for me and everyone else she conversed with to actually listened.
What I learned was that when I focused o what she said, I could indeed understand her perfectly. I often used this idea in coaching and, of course, it’s not just about accents. It’s about people with different agendas and motivations too. I’ve come to use the word curious to describe the mindset of an actual listener. Someone in the workplace organiser role absolutely has to be curious.
So much for the mindset you need (curiosity), what about a bit of process? Three things:
- Trust your first question! Whenever you analyse someone’s questioning and listening (and it’s something I do very frequently) you notice that inexpert questioners/listeners tend to ask multiple questions. They appear to trust the first question they ask, so they add in two or three sub-clauses or ideas. It’s confusing; it blocks conversations; it allows someone to ask the question they think is the easiest and not the one you initially wanted to ask. Ask a simple, often open question (one which doesn’t suggest its own answer, preferably starting with how or what), and then stop talking.
- Be comfortable with dead air. It frequently amazes me how frightened people asking questions seem to be of dead air. You’re not on the radio, broadcasting to millions. You’re talking to a colleague, it’s just the two of you. Particularly if you’re hoping that the other person will change their view in some way, they are going to have to do some thinking. So, leave space for them to do that. Be happy with silence. If you’re curious, if you want to hear what they think, don’t introduce a new idea or fill the air with something that stops them thinking, just encourage them to say more. You can do that non-verbally or with my favourite directive, a gentle tell me…
- Use parenting to probe. It’s a really simple technique, but it means you’re actually listening. You use what they have just said as the parent of your next question. Refer to what they’ve just said and ask a simple how or what question. Or just tell me more about that…
Most of us work, yet few of us recognise our power in those workplaces or that we can influence things there. How can those of us striving in workplaces, `unleash the power of you’? How do we start creating kinder, fairer, more productive workplaces? More fundamentally, where does the spark, the resolve actually to do something come from? How do we start to live our purpose?
In this book, Matt Dean uses his recent experience of cancer to shine a light on the challenges we all face in motivating ourselves to unleash the power of us. This is a book about creating kinder, fairer, more productive workplaces. Which sets out the thoughts, principles, and tools to create a more inclusive workplace.
About Matt Dean
An enthusiastic and inspirational facilitator, and coach, Matt is obsessed with creating kinder, fairer, more productive workplaces. Originally a brand manager with Unilever, Matt qualified as a solicitor in 1991 and worked as an employment lawyer with top City firms until he founded byrne·dean consultancy in 2003.
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