1: “Before speaking, I take a breath and ask myself one question: Is it worth it?”
That was the question Marshall Goldsmith’s client asked himself. As chief operating officer of a multi-billion dollar company, “his goal was to become a better listener and be perceived as a more open-minded boss,” Marshall Goldsmith writes in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
“I learned that 50 percent of what I was going to say was correct—maybe—but saying it wasn’t worth it,” the executive shares.
Asking this question had a big impact. “His scores for being a better listener and an open-minded boss skyrocketed,” Marshall writes. “And he became the CEO.”
Marshall is one of the top executive coaches in the world. He encourages his clients to ask, “Is it worth it?” because doing so makes us think through what the other person will think and feel after hearing what we have to say.
It allows us to “play at least two moves ahead,” Marshall observes. “Not many people do that. We talk. They talk. And so on—back and forth like a beginner’s chess game where no one thinks beyond the move in front of them. It’s the lowest form of chess; it’s also the lowest grade of listening.”
When we ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?” we think beyond the immediate conversation. We consider what the other person thinks of us, what they will do afterward, and how they will show up the next time we talk.
“When someone tells us something,” Marshall notes, “we have a menu of options to fashion our response. Some of our responses are smart, some are stupid. Some are on point, some miss the point. Some will encourage the other person, some will discourage her. Some will make her feel appreciated, some will not.
“As I say over and over again, this is simple stuff—but it’s not easy. If you do it, everything will get better. So much of our interpersonal problems at work are formulaic. Someone says something that ticks me off. I lash back at you. Suddenly, we have an interpersonal crisis (otherwise known as a fight).”
2: Asking, “Is it worth it” encourages a higher level of thinking. It is also an essential strategy for becoming a better listener.
“The thing about listening that escapes most people,” Marshall writes, “is that they think of it as a passive activity.”
We don’t have to do anything, we think. We “sit there like a lump and hear someone out,” he observes.
Not true! “Good listeners regard what they do as a highly active process—with every muscle engaged, especially the brain.”
“Active listening” means precisely that. We are active as we are listening.
It starts with awareness and intention. “Success or failure is determined before we do anything,” Marshall notes.
We think before we speak. Because we can’t listen if we are talking. “So keeping our mouth shut is an active choice (and as we know, for some people it’s tougher to do than bench-pressing 500 pounds).”
We strive to eliminate our need to impress our counterpart with how smart or funny we are. Our only aim? “To let the other person feel that he or she is accomplishing that,” Marshall writes.
And what happens when we suppress our desire to shine? We shine in the other person’s eyes.
“I’ve seen this happen so many times, it’s almost comical,” Marshall writes. “I’ve watched two people have a discussion where one person is clearly doing all the talking while the other person patiently listens and asks questions. Later on, when I’ve asked the dominant talker what he thought of the other person, they never regard the other person’s relative silence as evidence that they are dull, uninformed, and uninteresting. On the contrary, they invariably say, “What a great person!”
3: Lastly, we show respect. “It’s not enough to keep our ears open; we have to demonstrate that we are totally engaged,” Marshall notes.
The most successful people “make the other person feel singularly special,” Marshall notes. The ability to make other people feel this way leaves a lasting impression.
Give the other person our full attention. Put our phone away. Concentrate 100% on what the other person is saying. Resist the urge to think about what we will say after they finish talking. Listen.
How does it feel when someone gives us 100% of their attention? It feels like a gift. Our undivided attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give to the people we love and care about. We can choose to show up this way in every conversation.
Imagine we were on a first date with someone we really want to impress. How do we show up? We are “paragons of attentiveness and interest,” Marshall predicts. “We will ask all the right questions, and we will pay attention to the answers with the concentration of a brain surgeon operating inside a patient’s skull. If we’re really smart, we will calibrate the conversation to make sure we don’t talk too much.”
That’s all that is required to be a great listener. To connect with others on a meaningful level.
“The only difference between us and the super-successful among us—the near-great and the great—is that the great ones do this all the time,” Marshall notes. “It’s automatic for them. For them there’s no on and off switch for caring and empathy and showing respect. It’s always on. They don’t rank personal encounters as A, B, or C in importance. They treat everyone equally—and everyone eventually notices.”
So why don’t we do it? “We forget. We get distracted. We don’t have the mental discipline to make it automatic.”
His advice: “Make our next interpersonal encounter—whether it’s with our spouse or a colleague or a stranger—an exercise in making the other person feel like a million bucks.”
Marshall’s list of tiny tactics to be a better communicator:
• Don’t interrupt.
• Don’t finish the other person’s sentences.
• Don’t say, “I knew that.”
• Don’t even agree with the other person (even if he praises you, just say, “Thank you”).
• Don’t use the words “no,” “but,” and “however.”
• Don’t be distracted. Don’t let your eyes or attention wander elsewhere while the other person is talking.
• Maintain our end of the dialogue by asking intelligent questions that (a) show we’re paying attention, (b) move the conversation forward, and (c) require the other person to talk (while we listen).
Reflection: Which of Marshall’s tiny tactics above would make the biggest difference for me to become a better communicator?
Action: Experiment with that tactic today!