Wednesday, June 24, 2009

“Listen until it hurts”

What I liked most about Tim was that fact that he brought a different perspective to every discussion. What some others did not like about Tim was that he brought a different perspective to every discussion.

Some might think it is easier to lead when you surround yourself with like-minded people. While it may be easier, it probably does not bring the strongest and best solutions. When a leader that recruits and hires a staff with a similar thought process as themselves, the staff will likely agree with the leaders ideas, seldom question “group think” and avoid conflict.

The mature and confident leader will look to hire the experts in their fields with experience and expertise they do not have. These leaders speak less and listen more. I still remember Tim coaching us going into a customer meeting to “listen until it hurts.” We were being coached not to try to tell the customer what they wanted, but to hear what they needed. I can recall Tim summarizing the half-day session by repeating what a young US Army Sergeant had said, “I’d rather be safe than comfortable.” Tim listened to different perspectives and pulled the key lessons.

Have you encountered great listeners? How did they make you feel?


Charlie Becker said...

If you don't listen you aren't communicating effectively. Listening is key to any conversation. Or and sales process. That is the most important part to me. If you listen then you don't find out what you perspective client wants or needs.

Sunny Paradeshi said...

John, can you please expand on "We were being coached not to try to tell the customer what they wanted, but to hear what they needed"? Thanks.

Brad Raney said...

The hardest thing to teach hard driving, high achieving, Type A sales persons is the ability to stop talking - and to listen. The client will almost always give you a roadmap to solving his problem, (or give you a potential problem that you can offer a solution for), if you can learn to listen to what is being said...and what is NOT being said. Hearing between the lines is one of those skills that is innate in some people and is almost impossible to teach.

Mike .Vickers said...

The old adage is true 'you have one mouth and two ears'

Prabhu Sankaran said...

Most people that I have interacted with in my professional life are good listeners. Good listeners make me feel respected. I am able to leverage my skillset and competencies to the max when I work with a team comprising of good listeners. Sometimes, when good listeners are caught in personal problems or stressful situations at workplace, they might give a good hearing but may stop listening. Showing empathy to the speaker and giving a good hearing is ok but not as beneficial as good listening. Similarly, a team member who has not traditionally contributed significantly to the group efforts because of poor listening skills may transition into a good listener once the obstacles to good listening are identified and eliminated.

Lynn Marie Caissie said...

- The neat thing about a good speaker is that they are at the centre of the action.
- The great thing about a good listener is that the other is at the centre of the action.

Being at the centre makes me feel intelligent and valued. It makes me feel like my input counts and will be given careful consideration. It has me be responsible for what I ask for, and obliges me to give my demand careful consideration before expressing them.

Listen until it hurts - a great ground rule for parents to follow.
Listen until it hurts - a great way to help union committees become true business partners.
Listen until it hurts - a tool for change management.

It's a short phrase that articulates exactly what is meant by 'leave your ego at the door'.

I have to remember that one.

Gregory L. Smith said...

One of the best managers I had at Boeing was an excellent listener. I would come into his office and take over his white board covering it with technical ramblings. He would just sit back, listen to me and ask an occasional question. By allowing me to work through the problem and not taking sides, he allowed me to come to the appropriate conclusions. His listening skills allowed him to do this. Any other manager would have tried to solve the problem or inject their ideas into the discussion. Good listeners are very hard to find!

Anonymous said...


A great little story my dad taught me when I was starting out in sales: a young lady is telling her friends all about the blind date she went on the previous night. She is gushing about the gentleman incessantly. Her friends ask, "well, what does he do for a living?" "Gosh, I don't know", is the reply. "Well, where is he from and how big is his family?" "Gosh, I don't really remember!" "Well, what are his hobbies?" The young lady replies, "You know what? I don't remember anything about him. All he did was ask me questions about myself and I spent all night telling him about myself. He is such a great guy, I can't wait to see him again!"

My takeaway: listening is the sincerest form of flattery and really shows a person you feel that she/he is important; this opens doors and creates relationships in many cases.

On a recent consulting job, with most of the staff under the age of 25 and used to being forced into agreeing with the previous management, it took me nearly 6 months to build enough trust with the staff to have them offer differing viewpoints during meetings. They just did not understand that us Irish Catholics from Boston really like a good disagreement (at least one per day)!!! Have a super week!

Shelly (Rachelle) Gibson said...

Once again John another great topic. I absolutely agree with you. It is amazing how you can look around a company and still see "group think". Sometimes it is like waiting for the space shuttle to explode all over again. True leaders have confidence that they hired the right people and embrace their strengths and weaknesses. They learn from each other and push each other to grow the company as a whole. They create a culture of unity. True leaders know that mentoring and enabling their staff to make change and not just resist or embrace it is a sign of their ability to lead.

On the topic of listening. Another term for the "listen until it hurts" is "buyer focused selling". Assessing the buyers needs which requires you to listen. Xerox is infamous for this technique. I currently work for a leader who is a great listener and he has helped me in my career tremendously. It has helped build confidence in my work, created unity within our department and is a model that I try to mimic.

Thanks again for another enriching topic.

Milton Rivera Manga said...

A great post. I will quote with your permission the joung Sergeant !

Arunachalam Nilakantan said...

Many Leaders think that they must talk and talk (few dont even walk their talk) to prove their leadership position. And then there are some who have solid substance when they speak and also when they listen.Recently heard Capt Gopinath of Deccan 360 Cargo Airlines who enthralled the audience with his thoughts and was truly inspirational

Leslie Kohler said...

Because I'm self-employed, I have no one to listen to except colleagues I meet or correspond with, or the daily tweets. But I make up for it in having people listen to me. I tend to get very excited about novel ideas and new projects--and I want eveyone around me to hear about them. Even if they're a tuckered out boyfriend or cranky teen who couldn't care less unless there's a monetary payout for "the listen." That's when I hop on these networking sites and spill my views. Thanks, John, for the platform.

Charles Stuart said...

For me the greatest leaders talk less but the words have greater power and they listen much much more. An interesting couple of definitions on leadership from an article in Oct 2006:

..............There are many formulations of the key ingredients in leadership but one of the simplest and most direct
is Kouzcs and Posner's (1995) classic statement of leadership as five fundamental practices:
. Challenging the process
. Inspiring a shared vision
. Enabling others to act
. Modelling the way
. Encouraging the heart

As Stephen Covey put it: "Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall" By combining the two quotes it is possible to produce a good definition of leadership: "Leadership involves ensuring that the ladder is against the right wall and then getting people to climb up it enthusiastically."...............

Vickie Dolis said...

Love your blog. No truer words have been spoken concerning different perspectives and listening. We have probably all heard the saying that we were given "two" ears to listen and only "one" mouth to speak so we should listen twice as much as we speak.

Due to the fact we are not normally trained in listening, I decided to take a listening class. To my amazement, the class focused on the responsibility of the communicator to ensure the listener understood the content being shared. Because we are all shaped by different experiences, we may hear the same words and interpret them differently. Then, we wonder as Supervisors/Leaders why our people all hear the same words from our mouths, but show up later with a very different application of what we expected.

For example, if I told you to close your eyes and imagine a "big black cat," you might be surprised to find out that a group of people sitting in the room with you will likely imagine different pictures in their minds. One person might imagaine a "brown cat," since their favorite pet is a brown cat at home. The term "big" is relative so the size of the cat may be different in the mind of each person. If you are a musician, you might have pictured a famous black musician. If you are a car buff, you might have imagined a Jaguar.

Good listening takes effort and practice. It requires not only confidence and patience, but the responsibility of clarification. Differing opinions are important and should be encouraged to make a team stronger and to result in better decisions. Those who truly employ these powerful strategies are few and far between.

Dean Call said...

A good leader will surround hislef with people who offset his weaknesses, if the leader is a bad people person, he hires a people person, if the leader is bad with finances, he hires a financial guy./gal.

Perhaps the best example of a great leader done is by Group Think is John Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs invasion. no one questioned, and as the conversation went along the group became more and more conviced, and as it turns out more and more wrong. As noted by Janis (1972) they followed poor processes, arrived at poor decisions, then fought off any challenges to that consensus. In the end the whole scenario made JFK wonder "How could we have been so stupid?".

If there isn't some one making you uncomfortable, or some one viewed as the nemisis for the meeting/idea, you are probably missing something.

Scott Griffin said...

Listening is one thing but just because one is listening doesn't mean having a conversation. Listening is also asking question and interacting with the other person.

Also listening with an open mind counts! Just becuase you may have "heard it all" doesn't mean you have! How many times has someone approched us with an idea that has been done before? What if the person offers one little detail that has NOT been tired before? If you shut the person down then you could loose open and critical information! Keep the lines of communication open!

Thinik of it as a gift - and how are we to respond to gifts ? We say "thank you." And who can agrue with "Thank you"?

Tony Rodriguez said...

John, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Too often we miss the little details because we're not listening. And many times those little details are what we need to hear from the customer. Listening carefully is very difficult but critically important to finding simple solutions to complex problems.

David Costa said...

Prior to me becoming a "Corporate Renegade"....

We had an organization of "yes men" and "yes women". I must take responsibility for that...I tended to be a bit passionate about what I belived to be the absolute best path. Sometimes my passion and aggressive actions tend to scare the heck out of people. So....I took advice from someone whom I respect and implemented a new program.

I hosted a series of "Workshops". There were few rules in these workshops, but one big one. I could only ask questions and listen. Someone else would take all that information after each workshop and publish it to the group. The intention was to pick on "opportunity for improvement" each week and have the collective group come up with a response to it.

People embraced this (for the most part) and we (they) came up with some great results.

So John, great post. I agree. But to end my monologue....A leader must have a passion and conviction of a definite vision, or they cease being a strong leader. They become (gasp) a "manager". They are both essential in business, but only a leader shows everyone else the way forward.

Parry said...

There is a great excercise using MicroInequities. Tell a person to answer simple questions to an attentive listener and the conversation is fluid. Answer another set of simple questions to an inattenteive listener and you get annoyed. Grab a friend and try the excercise. Start with the listener being attentive and then one when the listener decides to answer a cell phone or looks in a different direction. It can be quite disheartening for the speaker.

Paco Ortega said...

Listening is the forgotten and, thus, the most important part of the communication process. Ask anyone what communication is, and they will instantly think and refer to speaking, convincing and arguing. It is generally assumed that a good communicator is someone with good speaking skills. What about listening skills? A general rule of thumb for good listening is: if you are talking or thinking about what you want to say, you are not listening. So shut up! Don´t interrupt and focus on the speaker and what he/she is saying! Easy to say, hard to do.

Robin Clifton said...

Regarding the original question:

When someone really listens, it brings me a feeling of stability regarding the situation. It causes me to feel comforted and takes away my "burden" to make sure my point is heard.

This is more than a technique - even if a person repeats what I've said and I perceive they clearly UNDERSTAND what was said, communication also includes elements deeper than conceptual understanding (emotional, etc.) - where if ignored or perceived to be pandered to, will give the speaker the impression that they are NOT being heard.

Good listeners are few and far between.

I agree with Brad - listening required "hearing" more than what is being said.

Anonymous said...

This was a very thought-provoking blog entry. I read all of the posts on "".

I always thought Mike Ness in Social Distortion was signing about alcoholism in "Ball and Chain".

I'm always impressed to discover that other respectable business people are listening to hard rock on their iPods or in the privacy of their cars, like I do on my commute to and from work.

Best regards,

Gary Gates said...


Excellent information and unfortunately something that isn't followed as often as it should be. Thanks for sharing.



David Vernon said...

Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with his political opponents. General Motors' upper management was a group of "yes-men." If that doesn't make John's case, what would? Note that one does not learn while talking, only while listening. Every business deal requires showing value to the other party - how do you do that with your mouth open and your ears closed? In consulting work, every thing you say will be repeated, and much of it will be misconstrued. The less said, outside of formal reporting, the better. The Chinese say, "if everyone around the world confined themselves to speaking on subjects about which they are qualified, one would hear around the world a deadly silence." The only thing a sales person actually must say is, "how many shall I put you down for?"

Michael Beason said...

Most valuable lesson I ever learned about listening was "LISTENING FROM"

Everyone listens from some perspective. Being human, it's mostly impossible not to. Here are a few examples of places you could listen from:

- expecting that what you hear will threaten your beliefs
- expecting that what you hear will require that you take action
- expecting to hear things that are emotional or poorly founded
- expecting to hear things that will add to your knowledge and options to act
- expecting to hear errors and things you'll have to correct
- expecting to hear things you violently disagree with
- expecting that what you hear will be life-threatening

And the list goes on - perhaps as many places to listen from as there are people. But the funny thing is that where you listen from is "where you are standing" - it is as clear as day to the speaker where you are standing - many times they're aware of this and change their communication to fit where you're standing. Let's face it, body language is much louder than spoken words - 5 to 1. Where you're standing is clear from the minute the speaker enters the room.

So you never really hear anything that is absolutely clear and untainted by the effect of your listening - where you're standing. By your listening you affect everything you hear. Want to hear some extraordinary ideas? LISTEN FROM a place where you expect to hear some really extraordinary ideas!

Only when you realize the power of where you are LISTENING FROM do you have the possibility that you may quiet your own effect down and hear what someone actually has to say.

And did you know that quantum physics already has discovered this a number of years ago? it's called the Heisenberg Principle - anything in nature cannot be observed without changing it (called the "observer effect")

When it comes to listening, there are no "innocent bystanders" - it's not possible to "just listen" - listening is the butterfly wings of the universe.

Wim Stout said...

Hi John, and everybody. Excellent topic. Excellent responses. Everybody seems to agree and think this is wonderfull, why does it go wrong so often?

As a father of an autistic child, I am confronted with listening skills every day. I have been named a good listener in privat and business. Communication skills are hard to employ when the other person communicates within a different mindset (could be technology talking to marketing as well). I fail everyday, make progress, do it right and start all over again with failure the next day.

People with good listening skills understand that. Nobody communicates the same (or at the same level being native, age differences or interest level in the topic), cultural back ground (Dutch being blunt??? Total misunderstanding, them being direct is a sign of appreciation and trust, they make themself vulnarable, always beware of a Dutch guy being polically correct, he does not trust you...) and more.

My son puts me back everytime and I am very proud in how hard he tries to fit in. My son is smart, he does A-level successfully and he can communicate. The trouble is listening skills and acceptance of others. He seems annoying because he cannot find always the right words to explain and the story takes 30 minutes instead of 5. Who has the patience to listen to a bright mind for 30 minutes.

For a change, try it. It show if you have the patience to be a good listener. Wanna bet that most (who think they are good listeners) interupt and loose interest within 5 minutes?

Leadership does not only involve listening skills, it is about appreciation for the effort people do by listening, not only for courtesy but by being interested. Who knows that the next project you will get promoted on starts with an idea from a poor communicator.

I thought I was a good communicator (people told be so and I was so stupid to think it myself) until my son started to communicate. It never stops, two ears and one mouth which was mentioned does not mean that the mouth should be open at all times and that that both ears are connected by an open tunnel (one side in, one side out).

My final comment here is; take a look around you and look at people you normally do not look at, see how they communicate. You can do that during lunch, join a table with people you dont know and start a conversation. Its scary but very rewarding if you can have a nice lunch and get out knowing a person, you migth have made a new friend, you might have a new networking option, you might have found the guy for the open position you are looking for.

The benefits of listening are greater than from talking. Remember however, when you don't talk (ask the first question to start a conversation), there is nothing to listen to...

Surendra Tiwary said...

If one does't listens his team, then he cant be a good leader. It is also about respecting others.

Rajat Kapur said...

Good listeners make you feel important. I once had a 5 min presentation in front of AG Laffley (now former CEO of P&G) and he focused on every word I said (with unwavering attention) and asked pointed, specific questions (nothing generic). Simple example of a great leader not being too big or too important to listen to someone lower on the totem pole.

Fred Mills said...

Great question John. For my money, listening, REAL listening, is one of the hardest things to do in Management. When I teach people to coach I tell them to listen actively (although now I have read your post I will change that to "Listen 'til it hurts" - I love that). I tell them to listen like crazy and trust their instincts but so many peole are 'hard-wired' into thinking that, in order to be perceived as clever and wise you need to speak (when in truth you just need to listen).

I did have the good fortune to work with a great listener some years ago, if I am honest, I found it rather unsettling (it is so rare). I find that resisting the urge to speak and to submerge the voice in my head that is talking whilst my co-repospondent is talking is, as I say, one of the harder tasks of Management.

As far as Leadership is concerned, I have always believed it was my job to select, recruit and then develop like crazy people who are better than I am, although I do know many managers who are hugely intimidated by this too.

Thanks for the question John, I enjoyed thinking about it.



Dean Call said...

Listening is only half of the equation. Listening, real listening, plus talking equals dialogue. How many times a day do we dialogue? How many times do we talk? I know I've been talked at, and that usually prompts me not to listen.

True dialogue is rare.

Carlos Glorias Ferreira said...

I often use the image that "a powerful Powerpoint presentation will not do any good if the audience is composed of blind people", so never unfold a script before assessing to whom are you going to deliver your message.

John Erste said...

Listening is an extremely undervalued tool and every staff needs a variety of viewpoints that are not only shared within the group, but listened to within the group.

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