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Lead Through Listening

By: David Benzel
Posted: July 23, 2008, from the August 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Dad was waiting in the parking lot at the usual time. As the basketball players left the gym, he noticed his 10-year-old’s head hanging low. When his son hopped in the car and slammed the door, the father asked, “How was practice?” The boy replied, “I hate my coach.”

This response did not sit well with Dad. Three thoughts rushed to his head, all fighting to be delivered in a disciplinary tone. First: “I’ve taught you not to speak disrespectfully about any coach or adult.” Second: “Are you kidding? This guy is a great coach—one of the best!” And third: “Do you have any idea how hard I worked to make sure you were placed on this guy’s team?” For some reason, however, Dad chose not to speak any of those condemning thoughts. Instead, only three words came out of his mouth; perhaps three of the best words he’d ever accidentally said: “Tell me more.”

His son went on to explain the events that took place during practice. Dad knew he was not yet hearing the whole story, so he continually prompted, “What else happened?” Eventually, the son admitted he was reprimanded for being sidetracked during practice and goofing off during one of the drills. Ultimately, his young son was so embarrassed by the coach’s scolding in front of the entire team, it led him to declare, “I hate my coach.”

Moral of the story: Dad’s first, second and third thoughts—if delivered immediately—would have missed the mark by a mile. They were totally irrelevant in light of the facts, which would never have been revealed had he delivered his all-knowing speech. Dad could have been guilty of jumping the gun with a quick response. But he learned so much more on this occasion by saying only three little words: “Tell me more.” Listening to the complete story provided much insight as to how his son thinks and reacts.

As a business leader, you have the same responsibility to your clients as a father has to his son: Listen, get the facts, determine the problem and help resolve the situation. Listening is an art and a skill. It requires discipline and focused attention. When you give the gift of silence, you allow others the chance to think and process their thoughts. The time required to do this varies tremendously, depending on with whom you’re speaking. When it comes to sharing thoughts and feelings about an event, two very different types of personalities can emerge. In both cases, the tell me more approach works well, although the timing varies.

The fast-twitch responder