In Training Magazine’s January/February 2012 issue, Consensus’ Hear Ye, Hear Ye article shows how active listening is critical to success in a variety of professional roles.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

With the economy slowly improving, my organization has finally reignited our development initiatives. Still, our current budget pales to the pre-recession years. I have been asked to focus our training efforts on Leadership, Management, and Sales. I’d like to consolidate as much as possible to realize economies of scale. I can see some intersection between Leadership and Management. But, I am having trouble identifying common threads with Sales. What are some best practices that apply to all three?

Given the current business environment, many of our clients are grappling with similar challenges. And, they are turning to their training partners for answers.

Certainly, an ability to understand and relate to the other people involved in a particular situation – whether they are fellow leaders, direct reports, or customers – is essential for professional success at all levels and in all functional areas.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental skills that one must master in any of the professional capacities you mentioned is that of active-listening. This requires that one listen to understand, rather than simply to hear. It sounds easier than it is, especially when we are faced with an opinion that, at best, is less informed than our own. It’s even harder when we face an opinion that seems on its face to be wrong. Instead, we might default to interrupting or correcting them. Or, we might neglect to provide opportunities for the others to fully express their opinions.

So Why Ask?

In those situations (when we are sure that we are “right” or “know more”), a question begs to be asked. “Why would it be so important to solicit inferior information?”

And here lies rub.

First, you might get additional information. Even if the other person’s analysis is sub-par, the data that drives their decision might be informative and useful. Accordingly, the advice would be to ask questions that get at the heart of their analysis and that surface the information that they have used.

Second, you undoubtedly build relationship capital with your counterpart. Everybody – including colleagues, direct reports, and customers – seeks to be heard and understood. By providing that platform through sincere questioning, you will create valuable goodwill.

Last, and most important, you just might find that, even though you are confident in the veracity of your original opinion, you’re actually wrong. Or, you might find out that there is at least one other equally plausible analysis of the situation. You might both be right. It’s the ability to suspend your confidence in your own conclusions and consider a competing view that distinguishes the great leaders, managers, and salespeople from the average ones.

A Higher Level

Now, if you want to take your professionals to an even higher level of performance, a more advanced skill that applies to all three roles would be an ability to consider the other side’s goals and opinions…without having to involve the other side (e.g., through active listening).

At my firm, Consensus, we refer to this as telling their story. It involves describing the situation from the other side’s perspective. The counterpart is the central character and protagonist. They are ascribed positive attribution (and, conversely, you might be cast in a negative light). This requires the ability to suspend one’s own biases and ego. This can be particularly challenging when we have more experience, “superior” information, and good reason to think that we are right and/or that the other side is absolutely wrong.

But, hey, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right? Since that isn’t the case, skills like these can be incorporated into New Year’s resolutions, as well as within our organizations’ core competencies.

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