By Judith E. Glaser
About 30 years ago I wrote an article for IBM managers that talked about “navigational communications.” It was my first major piece that captured my current thinking about the power of listening to influence success in business. It said,
“For a leader, listening is perhaps the most important skill. As a leader, we must learn to listen while navigating along with the speaker toward a common destination – mutual understanding. Whether your talents are in sales, systems engineering, administration, technical support, or leadership, listening to connect with others – requires a new and powerful form of deep, non-judgmental listening.”
Fast forward to 2013, and the world has transformed. While technology and globalization have reshaped much of business, it’s surprising how little the basics of communication have actually changed, and how much listening is still the cornerstone to navigating successfully with others.
However, through the exploding field of neuroscience, we are now learning that listening is more profound than we ever knew 30 years ago. We now know that our brains toggle back and forth between distrust and trust – depending on the quality of the conversation. When we feel we don’t trust someone, we listen with ‘threatened ears’ – we are producing higher levels of cortisol – which activates our fear networks even more. We withhold information, we go into silence and we trigger others to pull back from engaging in a healthy way.
I have seen that listening to connect breaks the ‘code of silence’ between people. When we feel connected we are able to open up and say what is really on our minds and when we do, our brains release higher levels of oxytocin, which enables bonding, collaboration and innovation.
In my book Conversational Intelligence, I talk about the five characteristics of a conversation that bring about a sense of well-being and connectivity, which help people collaborate:
1. Transparency — be more open and transparent with colleagues about what’s going on; what decisions are in play, and what’s on your mind. Share information and be open to discuss why you do what you do, which breaks the code of silence.
2. Relationships — focus on building relationships before working on tasks. Letting people know you want to stand with them, not against them, goes a long way toward getting in sync with people’s needs and aspirations to create strong bonds.
3. Understanding — appreciate others’ perspectives, points of view, and ways of seeing the world – this strengthens bonds of trust. Listen and ask more questions. Minimize fighting for your point of view and maximize exploring others’ perspectives. Listening to connect create bridges into what’s important to others.
4. Shared Success — define success with others; by defining success together, everyone contributes to co-creating the future we believe in. Creating a shared view of reality shapes the future with others.
5. Truth-telling — speak with candor and caring; and when misunderstandings occur, take risks with courage and identify and talk about reality-gaps with openness to learn. Narrowing the reality gaps creates alignment and strengthens bonds of trust.
Getting to the next level of collaboration depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations. Everything happens through conversations.
Judith E. Glaser, CEO Benchmark Communications, Inc. & Chairman of the Creating WE Institute, is author of the new book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion) October 2013. Visit her at www.conversationalintelligence.com or www.creatingwe.com