“I don’t listen to them – it drives them crazy, and it works with everyone: I can get anyone mad with me in a minute or two just by refusing to listen to them.”
I spoke at a conference in Istanbul recently. In the coffee break I met a man with an interesting profession – a freelance union negotiator. If you have tough employee negotiations he’ll take them on for you.
“Every negotiation has two main phases”, he told me, “in Phase One the union reps tell me what their people will give my client – more productivity, longer hours etc. In Phase Two I tell them what my client is going to give in return”, he explained.
“My first objective in Phase Two is to get them so upset and mad with me, so out of control with rage that the walk out of the negotiations – and the earlier that happens in Phase Two the better.”
His reasoning? “They’ll offer tiny concessions and expect me to make huge concessions – I want them to be aware that this will not be an easy negotiation. I want them to be in a frame of mind to properly understand the value of any concession I make, however small.”
Ignoring my thoughts on the rights or wrongs of his approach I was fascinated enough to ask him how he got people so crazy, so quickly.
“Oh, that’s easy – for the first few minutes they talk I look at my watch, out the window, shuffle papers, even send a few SMS messages. I eventually apologize: ‘sorry, what was that you were saying – I was a little distracted.’”
“After one or two rounds of this EVERYONE has had enough – it never fails. They walk out angrily and my first objective for Phase Two is accomplished”.
Why does not listening work?
There is no greater attack on the self-esteem of another than to deny them your attention when they speak to you. Similarly there is no greater way to build rapport, enhance relationships, smooth communications and positively engage others than through focused listening skills.
As leaders many of us spend our time searching through the latest leadership books looking for fancy ways we can engage the people who work for us such that they positive WANT to give more of themselves in helping the organization achieves its goals and objectives.
And in doing so we sadly often miss that we often don’t need fancy tricks to engage people – sometimes it can be as simply as listening.
Cultivate good listening habits:
In Profiles International’s recent research for Leadership Charisma more than 400,000 employees worldwide ranked their 40,000 leaders for their leadership charisma – their ability to engage them such that they invested extra effort in their work. In those leaders ranked these people found charismatic the following listening skills were the top behaviors that these as the behaviors that they said had the biggest charismatic impact upon them:
- Be in the moment. When someone is speaking with you make it a point to give them 100% of your attention. Start by making eye contact – doing so reminds you where your focus should be. If you feel yourself drift away to other concerns then snap yourself back.
- Listen carefully without interrupting. Do you spend most of your conversation time listening in your own mind to what you plan to say next? Most of us do. George Zimmer, founder of the Men’s Wearhouse suggests:
“…try not to speak until the other person has said the last syllable of what they are saying.
Waiting for one second after your employee or colleague has said their last syllable will create a more communicative and trusting culture
…In that one second the human brain is able to have an enormous number of thoughts so you get a different dialogue because there’s been a larger universe considered”
- Summarize input and check for understanding. “So what’s you’re saying is… “or “…if I understand what you’re saying then…”. Do it regularly during the conversation – not only does it assure your conversation partner that you understand what they’re saying but it gives you an active way of keeping yourself focused.
- Listen to all points of view with an open mind. Develop a reputation as someone who is genuinely prepared to take all perspectives into account before making a decision. Decide to give everyone a fair hearing and honestly assess the value of their contributions before making a decision on how you feel about them.
The key message? If you want to be a leader who angers and disengages people then make a specific effort to avoid listening to word your people say – but if you want to be an engaging and charismatic leader then work continually on your basic listening skills. There is quite simply no easier way to raise your people’s self-esteem and engagement.