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3 items from April 2014


“Say What?” The 5 Levels of Listening

“Amazing, simply amazing. Melt-in-your mouth. Your mama was a keeper.” Beth watched her dad’s mouth move, describing the delectable German chocolate cakes her mom used to bake, but all she could think was, “He’s a diabetic! He should not be talking about mom’s cakes. He’s only making it harder for himself.”

Beth didn’t know it, but she wasn’t really listening. At least, not in the highest possible sense of the word.


Peg Allen, communication trainer with Hippo Solutions, teaches that there are actually five levels of listening. The fifth level is “Not Listening.” At this level, we have our fingers in our ears and our eyes closed, repeating “La, la, la, la, la…”   We can’t hear the other person at all.

If you’ve ever been on the other end, trying to talk to a person with his "fingers in his ears", you know it’s absolutely infuriating. We are left misunderstood, unable to clarify, with no sense of value to our voice.

When we listen at the fourth level, we are “Listening for Judgment.” This is Beth’s level, judging her dad’s words. At this level, we are so preoccupied with our own thoughts, evaluating what the other person is saying, that we can’t actually hear the meaning behind the words. This preoccupation hinders our ability to connect with the other person on a heart level.

At the third level, we are “Listening to Tell Our Story.” Instead of actually focusing on the other person’s story, we are thinking of how our own story relates to her story. We are listening for a break, a pause, a moment when we can interject.

The fourth level is “Listening for Application.” When we listen for how we can learn from the information or apply it to our own work or lives in some way, we really are listening intently because we are motivated by the usefulness of the information. Yet, we still aren’t listening at the highest level.

At the top of the pyramid, the first level, we are “Listening to understand.” Our thoughts are focused on the other person instead of ourselves, and we want to understand for their sake, not our sake. I believe at this level, our listening is motivated by respect and value. And as the other person feels heard, understood, and known by our attentive listening, he or she experiences being valued.

With the swirl of activities, tasks, work, responsibilities, twitter feeds and random thoughts, choosing to listen to understand is extremely challenging. It takes work and intentionality. But when we listen for the heart behind the words and respond in a way that communicates we understand, our connection with the other person is deepened, and trust is established.

“Wait, did you say ‘Your mama was a keeper?’” Beth asked her father. He nodded, “She sure was.” Beth thought for a moment, and then asked, “Are you missing her today?” He nodded again, tears in his eyes. “I miss her every day.” Beth reached out and hugged him. He hugged her back. And she finally understood.




Use this Communication Technique to Change the Dynamic of Your Weekly Meetings

It was a rainy Sunday night at home.  I was mentally walking through my priorities and schedule for the next day and was excited about a workshop I was developing.  Then I opened my Outlook calendar and cringed.  I had forgotten that Monday morning was our weekly staff meeting. That's when I knew we had a problem: I didn't even want to attend my own staff meeting.

Dull, Uninspiring

Our staff meetings had become dull.  We had gotten into the rut of discussing priorities and agendas and news and policies and problems for the week.  My first thought was do we even need this meeting?  Yes, we did.  It is the one required meeting and important information is conveyed back and forth.  Certainly necessary, but not exactly an inspiring experience.


A Change Needed

I thought about what we could change and it didn't take long before the answer jumped out at me.  It was a technique that we teach in our events and workshops and that we had already employed in our sales meetings: telling stories!  For some reason we had accepted the notion of what a weekly staff meeting was "supposed to be" - dull, boring, and necessary - and had not adopted our own preaching to communicate with each other more effectively.

What Types of Stories?

In our sales meetings with prospective clients (partners), we love to tell stories to convey the impact and transformation on individual people that we see in our actor-based training workshops.  It's powerful because they are personal stories and we are passionate about them.  The question became: how could I incorporate stories effectively in our weekly staff meeting?

I came up with four different messages I would want to convey in a meeting and four different types of stories to deliver those messages:

    1. Inspire them to achieve our vision and big audacious goal.

I'll tell stories of other teams or organizations that achieved something like our team wants to achieve.

    2. Convey a different future

I'll tell stories that describe a different future (such as how the customer experience would be in this new future).

    3. Learn from what has happened this past week

I'll tell stories of something that happened this week (such as to a team member or a customer).

    4. Ingrain the values I want to have on the team.

I'll tell stories of past teams that exemplify the values that I want or do not want this team to exemplify.

Get Their Help

The beauty is that you don't need to tell all the stories yourself.  Ask your team members to be prepared to share stories instead of simply conveying facts and figures. For example, ask them to tell stories of what happened with a customer that past week; or a story about another team or organization that they discovered; or ask them to tell stories of past teams with which they have been involved that demonstrated positive (and negative) values important to them.

Story Elements

Whatever story you (or they) tell, be sure to keep it short and and include the following four elements to make it compelling:

  • Include a character (tell it from the perspective of an individual person)
  • That experienced a series of obstacles
  • Building up to a climax (they changed and broke through the obstacles)
  • Which results in a different outcome

Your Action Steps

1.  Come up with a short, concise story.

2.  Open up your next weekly staff meeting with the story.

3.  Share with me what you learned.

It may not feel right the first time.  Ask for feedback on your storytelling skill, refine your delivery, and keep trying until you get the results you want.  No communication skill is perfect the first time we use it.

I can tell the difference in the meeting dynamic right away.  Let's stop cringing when we see we have a staff meeting the next day and turn it into something that everyone looks forward to as a compelling, relevant, and practical meeting.

And to really develop this skill (whether for meetings or sales or implementing change or whatever scenario), check out our upcoming storytelling workshop!




4 Tips to Communicate with an Analytic

IMG_0797_webI confess.  I am an analytic.  I love details, solving problems, and getting things done.   For those of us who are more analytic, I'd like to help you communicate with us more effectively because we know who you are.  You get frustrated when talking with us.  You wish we would stop being so detail oriented and get to the point.  You want us to just get the job done.  But if you understand us, you'll be amazed by what you get out of us.

We analytics can get a bad rap when really we just want to understanding things correctly in order to do things right the first time!  If you are feeling a bit of frustration with folks in your organization that are more detail oriented (such as those in a technical position), here are four suggestions just for you:

1.  We LOVE to solve your problem...usually

If you need someone to analyze and solve a problem, we're your person!  We love to think through problems, brainstorm options, and work out the best solution.  Throw us a problem now and then to show that you appreciate our "superior" (at least we think so) problem-solving skills.

However, if the problem is a result of someone's stupidity or lack of planning, we'd rather sing "Oh Suzanna" 100 times while walking around the building...in the rain.  We want no part of it.  So if you need to approach us about a problem like this, bring some contriteness with you.

2.  Give us INFORMATION..but keep us from overanalyzing!

We crave the details.  If you ask us to make a decision without enough details, we're going to be hurting.  The only thing we hate more than making a wrong decision is being forced to make a decision without all of the pertinent data.  While there may be times where you need to challenge us to be more decisive (instead of over-analyzing), most of the time you are going to get our best when you give us the details we need to make a good decision.  Or...you give us the time to get the details ourselves - we're ok with that too.  And yes at some point, challenge us to step up, stop analyzing, and make a decision (after we have had the opportunity to do at least some analyzing).

3.  Let us talk

When we pause in a conversation, that just means we are thinking about what we want to say.  It doesn't mean it's your turn to continue to ramble now.  Some of you can't stand the silence.  We know this because you can't let two seconds go by without filling the silence with more talking.  This wears us out.  Many times you will finally give us the opportunity to say something, but when we pause to think about what we are going to say next, you start talking again.  This irritates us and causes us to disengage from the conversation.  Here's a suggestion: if we pause, count to 10 (one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, etc.) before speaking again.  It's like a "pause war."  But we probably still have something to say.

4.  Give us a goal!

We love goals.  Give us a goal, an objective, a mission, and we'll fulfill it.  Just make sure it is crystal clear because we will take it at face value.  We appreciate recognition as well, but that is not as satisfying as the feeling of a job well done.  So give us something clear and challenging, and we'll run with it!

As with any style, you can get a lot of your analytic folks if you take the time to understand them instead of running over them.  Take a minute to jot down the names of the analytics on your team, and think about how you have interacted with them recently.  How can you adapt to utilize their strengths?