Friday, March 2, 2012

How to be a better listener

Here's a useful article from the McKinsey Quarterly (free once you've registered), on an important skill many of us could do better: listening. The full column is worth reading, as it is illustrated with several helpful examples, but here's the gist:
  1. Show respect. Easy to say, right? But harder to do. One way is to show everyone around you that you value their perspective by waiting for them to come out with what they're thinking, rather than helping them to solve a problem. 
  2. Keep quiet. Really. Let the other person talk.
  3. Challenge assumptions - but be subtle about it. One suggestion the author makes is to alter a single fact or assumption to see if that will alter a team's approach to a problem. It might help bring out facts that contradict what everyone "knows," helping you get to a better solution.
The author doesn't add this, but it's evident that maintaining a sense of humor is useful too. As I said, there are many useful anecdotes in the article, so it's worth reading. I'll quote one:
I was amused when John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, told me that when he had to make tough decisions he often ended his conversations with colleagues by asking, “Is there anything left that you haven’t told me . . . because I don’t want you to leave this room and go down the hall to your buddy’s office and tell him that I just didn’t get it.” With that question, McLaughlin communicated the expectation that his colleagues should be prepared; he demanded that everything come out on the table; and he signaled genuine respect for what his colleagues had to say.

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