Home Best Practices “The occupational disease of a poor executive is an inability to listen.”

“The occupational disease of a poor executive is an inability to listen.”

If I had to pick one business skill above all others, I’d picked listening.  Not hearing.  Listening.  Hearing is passive, listening is active.  Actually, listening isn’t just a business skill, it’s more of a life skill.  And it’s a critical skill because whatever problem you’re facing, the clues to its solution are all around you with your employees, your customers, your vendors, and yes, with your friends and family too.  But there’s a secret to great listening skills.  If you want to learn that secret, please read below.

“The occupational disease of a poor executive is an inability to listen”
– Dr. Lydia Gibers

Poor listeners are easily distracted.  A poor listener will notice, “This guy has the biggest nose I’ve ever seen!  Wonder how he keeps that thing warm in the winter?”  Good listeners know how to focus, not only on the words being said, but also on nuances, on subtleties, and on inflections in the speaker’s voice.  They are able to do this even when Big Nose is talking because they realize Big Nose might also have a big brain and may have something worthwhile to say.

But that’s not the real secret to being a great listener.

The real secret is “suspending judgment.”  You need to let thoughts, ideas, and opinions enter your conscientiousness unfiltered by your biases and pre-conceptions.  My friend Russ Riendeau talks about this extensively in his audiobook, “First Hide the Poison Arrows.”  But how can we “suspend judgment?”  After all, that’s what makes us the dominant species on the planet, right?  It’s our ability to use our intellect, to reason, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to understand right from wrong, and to discern a good idea from a bad one, isn’t it?  So how are we supposed to “suspend” all that.  It’s in our DNA for cryin’ out loud!  And even if we could “suspend judgment,” why would we want to?

Several reasons:

1) As soon as you render a judgment about what someone else is saying, listening stops.  It stops at that very instant because your mind is now formulating your brilliant rebuttal to what is clearly a stupid idea.  In short, your ego takes over and does not allow you to finish listening to the rest of the idea.  Almost all the technological wonders we take for granted every day are here because someone was willing to “suspend judgment” about our ability to create them.  In fact, I bet we wouldn’t have blue M&Ms today if someone hadn’t learned this vital listening secret.
2) When you give whoever is speaking to you your undivided attention . . . not just the appearance of your undivided attention, but the real thing . . . people will give you their best, candid, unvarnished thoughts, opinions, and ideas.  They won’t hold anything back.  But if they think you’re going to jump to a conclusion without hearing them out, they’ll dole out the bits and pieces they think are “safe” to give you, and you’ll never get the rest.
3) You may just surprise yourself and find some real gems in some unexpected places.  In his entire life, your cousin Charlie has never had an original thought . . . until today.  Today lightning strikes, Charlie has a brilliant, million dollar idea, and if you have your ears on, you’ll get it.  If you don’t, if you’ve tuned him out, you’ll kick yourself forever.
Of course, we can’t “suspend judgment” indefinitely.  At some point, we have to make a decision, choose a direction, or take an action.  But we must suspend judgment until we have all the best thoughts, opinions and ideas out on the table  . . . the good, the bad, the impractical, the brilliant, the out-of-the-box, the pedestrian . . .  all of it.  Then we can sort through it all, debate it all, and start to figure out what makes the most sense.

Being a good listener makes you a better communicator and a better leader (not to mention a better friend or a better spouse).  So if you want to be a great listener (as you should), you can only do it through this notion of “suspending judgment.”  It doesn’t cost anything, it doesn’t put anything at risk, and the benefits, in terms getting the best from those around you, are enormous.

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