Peek Inside

Peek inside our book. What You Don’t Know About Listening (Could Fill a Book)

Chapter 1
Why You Need a Book on Listening

Isn’t it interesting that you believe you are a good listener, yet you know hardly ANYONE ELSE who is?.

That’s the dilemma we faced when we began to write this book.  Most everyone thinks they are a good listener. They probably can’t picture themselves needing—or heaven forbid—buying, a self-help book on that subject.

But anyone who has experienced the results of poor listening can name an endless number of people who should read this book. Is one of them YOU? Well, even if it isn’t, you might know someone whose performance is derailing them or their organization. Perhaps you should make them a gift of What You Don’t Know About Listening (Could Fill a Book)!

The Root of the Problem
In our work as Executive Coaches, we frequently find ourselves diagnosing the key barriers that keep an individual from operating at peak potential. This diagnostic journey is similar to the physician who tries to determine the root problem causing a patient’s skin rashes, joint pain, and headaches. There could be many different reasons for these conditions. Or, there might be just one root from which all this pain arises—like their poor diet—that is causing all the havoc.

Our experience has shown us that poor listening is a very common root cause of leadership “pain”. It shows up as a factor in about one-third of the coaching we do.

Here are some symptoms to look for:

  • The Leader is perceived to be 
    • someone who avoids delivering difficult messages

    • an inadequate communicator
    • arrogant, or always wanting to “do it their own way”
  • The Leader’s team does not execute well
  • The Organization is not selecting, retaining or developing top talent
  • Motivation is low
  • Counterproductive conflict exceeds cooperation, and finger-pointing is a common practice
  • Customer satisfaction is low

If you recognize (and are suffering from) any of these outcomes of inadequate listening skills, you are probably pretty interested in learning how to rectify things.

We’re confident that, in the first few chapters of this book, we can teach you the concepts of how to really listen. Sooner than you’d think, you’ll

gain the tools to build more successful and productive relationships with your clients, colleagues, and employees. But wait, there’s more…you’ll find that these tools will come in handy in your personal relationships as well.

However, if you are only concerned about giving off the perception of listening and your primary motive is to better manipulate others, then this book may not be for you. Stop reading right now and pass this book on to someone else who will probably become your boss in a year’s time. 

On the other hand, if you want improve your relationship with your boss, a peer, or those who report to you—and truly recognize the opportunity that comes from understanding each of them better—please read on.

Helen Peters and Robert Kabacoff of The Management Research Group (MRG) published a paper in 2005 entitled, “Attributes of the Most

Effective Leaders in the Technology Sector.” They studied 1,412 highly educated leaders from 21 different organizations using an anonymous 360-degree feedback tool.

They found that to be considered a good business manager, a leader needs to:

  • Be strategic, which means to take a long-range, broad approach to problem solving and decision making through objective analysis, thinking ahead, and planning  

They also found, that to be considered a good people manager, a leader needs to:

  • Demonstrate an active concern for people and their work
  • Value the ideas and opinions of others
  • Have a more inclusive decision-making style

Interestingly, their research showed a strong correlation between each of these behaviors and listening.

Listening is the skill that bridges your effectiveness as a leader of people with your success as a business leader.

How Do You Communicate?
Ah, but what often gets in the way of proper listening is an individual’s personal style of communication. A large number of leaders fall into one of two categories:

These leaders are comfortable being aggressive when they need to get things done with their equally capable superiors, peers and subordinates. The aggressive leader is less likely to be perceived as a listener. They frequently use persuasion to get things done, which may lead to compliance rather than commitment. They are typically comfortable with, or unaware of, conflict.

Our approach is intended to provoke an aggressive leader to become more aware of their behavior and choose new skills that force them to listen.

These folks are uncomfortable asserting themselves with equally capable superiors, peers, and subordinates. They are probably pretty good listeners but they may be concerned that conflict will arise when they transition to expressing their expectations and concerns..

Our approach leverages skills that passive managers can, with practice, learn to assimilate comfortably into their leadership style. The result is a substantially more effective leader.

Key Thought
Instead of being either passive or aggressive, we encourage leaders to be assertive.

What Does it Mean to be Assertive?
There are still many misunderstandings about the true meaning of assertiveness. “Some think assertiveness is a just a milder, ‘nicer’ form of aggressiveness. Yet the two are entirely distinct sets of behaviors with different objectives and motivations.”1 Take a look at the definition of assertiveness.

Assertiveness: A form of communication in which needs or wishes are stated clearly with respect for oneself and the other person in the interaction. Assertive communication is distinguished from passive communication (in which needs or wishes go unstated) and aggressive communication (in which needs or wishes are stated in a hostile or demanding manner).2

1 Stanlee Phelps and Nancy Austin, The Assertive Woman, 4th Edition, Impact Publishing, 2002
 2 Kristalyn Salters- Pedneault PhD, “What is assertiveness?,”, February 19, 2009

Our approach helps you evolve into a more collaborative, direct, and honest leader because it lays the groundwork for you to truly hear the other person—and for them to hear you.

A Book in Three Parts
In the coming chapters we’ll ask you to explore new behaviors and practice new skills. In Parts I and II, we give you the core concepts that support what listening really is. You’ll need each concept to build the strong foundation for your new behaviors. Whenever you need to, return to these early chapters and they will give you confidence.

Insecurity comes from not understanding the concept. —Plato

You may quickly understand the concepts that are discussed in just the first few chapters, but employing a specific new behavior takes time

and effort. You could feel awkward at first. Most all the chapters include Skill-Building Exercises that are designed to help you imprint and own each of these behaviors. (I must admit that I myself don’t usually do any practice exercises, but the ones we’ve included will really help to increase your confidence before you go “live” with a new behavior. –Jon)

In Part III, we demonstrate how to use your new listening skills in all the common leadership situations you encounter on a daily basis.

What You Don’t Know About Listening (Could Fill a Book) is intended to be a career-long reference handbook that will guide you through the communication potholes on the road to your ever-advancing career.

Keep in mind that you’ve been using your old listening skills all your life. Naturally, it will take time to assimilate these new behaviors into your

everyday conversations. Be patient. Practice. Celebrate your successes. And above all, keep listening.

    Jon WhitePeek Inside