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Posted by on Jun 7, 2010

An amazing statistic

If I told you that as a leader or manager you could do something relatively simple to increase loyalty, motivation, cooperation and buy-in, would you be interested?

Probably so.

And if I told you that I have discovered – somewhat accidentally – a statistic that is almost 100% correlated with perceptions of greatness as a manager or leader, would you want to know what the correlation is?

Probably so.

I have asked groups for about a decade to raise their hands if they have or have ever had what they consider to be a great boss. Some unpredictable percentage of hands goes up. I then ask people to lower their hands only if they think that boss was not a good listener.

Here’s the data: With about 2,000 people (I wish I had kept an actual count), a total of seven hands have dropped. The technical term for that in the social sciences is a “no-kidding correlation.”

What is it about listening that is so powerful? And don’t we already listen pretty well, anyway?

Let’s first dispense with the myth. Many people listen superficially. They are rehearsing in their heads what they will say next (and interrupt if it takes too long for them to make their point), they listen for what it means to them – instead of truly just listening for what it means to the other person, and they get distracted a lot. This is when you are doing things like thinking of your grocery list, wondering what will happen next in your favorite television show, or thinking about that catchy tune you heard on the radio driving in.

(By the way, when you are “listening” on the telephone while typing out a reply to an email message, I hate to tell you this, but the other person knows. Same thing when you’re trying to eat your lunch and make it sound like you’re not eating your lunch.)

Also, if you want to experience another amazing statistic, keep track sometime of the interruptions in a contentious meeting. I did this recently with a group and tracked 10 interruptions in 20 seconds. The interrupters got interrupted! And the people who interrupted the interrupters got interrupted! Here’s the really amazing part – it didn’t seem that unusual. It felt like a normal work conversation where people had strong feelings.

This kind of non-listening is not what I am talking about. I mean attentive, focused, present listening.

Here’s the easy way to start to understand the power of it. Think of someone who really just listened to you – fully, engaged and dialed-in. What did that mean to you? When people talk about how it affected them, they usually say that it made them feel valued, respected, trusted and connected. (Are you starting to see how this could lead to loyalty, motivation, cooperation, and buy-in? These were the four words used by a management group going through a development program when they were charged with practicing the listening skill for two months.) There is something about this experience that connects people and creates a space in which new meaning can emerge.

I am not claiming that all you have to do to be seen as a great leader or manager is listen – there are other blogs for that — but the correlation speaks for itself.

So how do you get started? This is the easy part. Next time you’re ready to chip in your ideas or thoughts, just hold back one more sentence. That’s your first step on a development path. The next time, hold back for two more sentences. Work the muscle. Build the capacity to just listen without it feeling strange.

Also, this is also one of those “try it at home” competencies.

See what happens.

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