The art of being a good listener or: short and long distance running, Part II

As the Athletics are in full force, and I have just returned from another workshop at Henley Business School, I thought I’d follow up from my last post.

Having recently read Edgar Schein’s “Humble Inquiry”, short- and long-distance running as an analogy seemed apt yet again. Note how it is much more important for a short-distance runner to get a great start, pushing themselves off the starting block, while long-distance runners seem nearly relaxed at the start…

What does this have to do with the art of listening, you might ask?

According to Schein, “deep down many believe that if you are not winning, you are losing. If you don’t tell first, someone else will tell and get the brownie points. The tacit assumption is that life is always a competition.”

So does this ring a bell? Do you like to push people to get to the point if you feel that you are not getting anywhere near a conclusion in a conversation? (Impatience kicking in!)

Or, as Schein would tell us: “When we are listening to someone and don’t see where it is going, we say “So what is your point?”. We expect conversations to reach some kind of conclusion, which is reached by telling something not by asking questions”.

This ties in with a quote often allocated to the Dalai Lama: “when you talk, you only repeat what you know; when you listen, you might actually learn something”.

Maybe we should all try some long distance running, aka, preserve our energies, park our impatience, forget about that Pole Position, and take a deep breath before trying to force a conclusion of a conversation.

Or we could try and be children again, following the slogan intended for crossing a road and apply it to conversations/situations in our business lives instead:

Stop! Look! Listen! Think!

It doesn’t mention “TELL / TALK / INTERRUPT”, does it?

I’ll go now and buy some duck tape to put over my mouth.

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