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Listening – The Cornerstone of Communications

Early in my consulting career, more years ago than I can count now, as a young associate, I was part of a project team beginning an engagement with a client. Our firm had about five or six members on the team, including a partner, a manger, and a balance of other associates. The client had a number of counterparts, mostly in functional roles, but for this particular meeting, no one from the executive ranks.


I can’t even remember the nature of engagement, or the specific scope of work, but I vividly remember going around the room, and the client team members had a number of great ideas to share, but the rest of my consulting colleagues kept talking over them. I sat quietly, trying to take it all in, listening to everything the client was saying, and looking to see if I could capture some root cause issues of the problems we were trying to solve.


When the meeting was over, the manager for our team pulled me aside, and all but accused me of “not speaking up enough” during the meeting. I asked him why it was an issue, and his response was that “I wasn’t demonstrating value” to the client by just sitting there…


It wasn’t true of all of my colleagues in that firm, and I say it with no disrespect to them in general, but the important lesson learned for me that day, very early in my professional career, was that the greatest value you can add is to actually be the best listener you can possibly be, and the rest will fall into place once your client, customer, or colleagues, appreciate that you truly understand a challenge at hand. My manager that day, as nice a person as he was to work with, was a hammer looking for a nail, and didn’t seem to care, or didn’t have the capacity, to listen to what the client wanted to say.


Roy T. Bennett is attributed with the following quote: “Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” This aligns so well with a number of the On The Ball Theory traits, and ties together previous discussions about Curiosity and Integrity.


Listening is the key to unlock knowledge, and the cornerstone of great communications.


Without listening, it is far more difficult to understand the problems or challenges we face. Without listening, learning, and fulfilling our curiosity, is nearly impossible. Without listening, the ability to exchange ideas with others, understand their expectations, and build trust, cannot exist. Listening is a bridge connecting individuals to opportunities, relationships, and personal growth.


Effective Problem Solving requires a thorough understanding of different perspectives and viewpoints. By actively listening to others, you gain insights into their thoughts, experiences, and emotions. This understanding lays the foundation for collaborative problem solving as you can consider diverse viewpoints before formulating solutions. When I think back to that large client meeting as a consultant many years ago, establishing a supportive environment is crucial. Active listening contributes to this by making others feel heard and valued. This, in turn, encourages open communication and a willingness to share ideas and ultimately lead to solutions.


In the context of Curiosity and learning, active listening enables you to absorb information more effectively. Whether in a classroom setting or during an informal discussion, listening allows you to grasp new concepts, understand different viewpoints, and integrate diverse ideas into your own understanding.


Furthermore, from an Integrity perspective, listening builds trust in interpersonal relationships. Trust is a vital component in problem solving and learning environments. When people feel listened to, and trust is established where a candid exchange of ideas can take place, they are more likely to collaborate, share information, and work together towards common goals.


In our new, digital age, let’s be sure to expand listening from just the audible, and include watching, reading, and observing – all as a means of calling out that we have to be sure to embrace the information that is shared with us, independent of the format or medium in which we digest it. Email, remote work, distance learning, and global connectivity have all enabled this, and perhaps at times making the actual skill of listening less of a priority, but the core foundation of processing and consuming information, in order to be successful and effective, are more important than ever.


I enjoy facilitating client meetings, and look forward to the next one where I can earn more about their challenges, and how I might be able to help them. In the meantime, I appreciate you taking the time to “listen” and our future opportunities to get together and exchange ideas as well.

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