True Listening

He was known as the organization whisperer.  He had the ability of getting people in organizations to open up to him about issues that are affecting the culture and morale of the organization.  What made his career path surprising was that he was very much an introvert.  He had few close friends and he rarely socialized.  In fact, when he wasn’t working, he rarely spoke.  He despised being in the public spotlight.  That’s what made it shocking that he agreed to do an interview.

O:           Our guest today is one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had in agreeing to an interview.  Franky, I don’t know how well this interview is going to go.  Bill, why did you agree to do an interview?

B:            We’ve had an entire generation of people think the interviews they see on TV are the way interviews should be done.  They are terrible, and I hope that I can provide some insight into how to get people to really open up to you.

O:           Okay, tell me what I’m doing wrong.

B:            First, I see you have a prepared set of questions to ask me.  That’s wrong.  Just start with one question and let every question after that flow from the previous question.

O:           What’s your first question?

B:            I don’t know until I enter the office of the person I’m interviewing.  By the way, I always do the interviews on their turf to make them feel comfortable, especially today when it’s so easy to hide a recording device.  I look around their office at pictures, books, diplomas, etc. and ask them a question related to what they have on display.

O:           Then?

B:            The next question will follow up from what they are willing to share about their personal life which they share with everyone who enters their office.  I do this to get them comfortable talking to me.

O:           But at some point, you need to get to the heart of the matter.  How do you make the transition?

B:            Something they tell me about their personal life will connect to their work life.  I use that as a spring board.  If I’m successful, they won’t even know that I’ve transitioned to the reason for the interview.

O:           At some point, I’m assuming you are getting to very sensitive information.  How do you frame those questions?

B:            I only ask open ended questions.  When they finish answering the question, I don’t say anything.  They will respond to the silence by giving me more information.  I find these responses to silence to be when I get real insights.

O:           Then?

B:            I’ll ask follow up questions to what they just told me.  At this point in the interview, they are willing to tell me what they really believe.  Mostly I just listen.  Very few questions are needed at this point.

O:           How do you end?

B:            I tell them what will follow.  I again assure them of the confidential nature of the interview.  Often they will ask me why I didn’t take notes.  I don’t need notes if I’m really listening.  It’s surprising the emotional relief at the end of the interview.  Tears are common.

The ability to get people to open up to you is a skill that is virtually never taught.  But so much of what we do in organizations depends on getting people to open up about what is really happening.  What Bill did was share just a part of his wisdom about true listening.  True listening is creating a sanctuary environment where people are willing to share and be heard.

* * *

“Most people do not listen with intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
– Stephen Covey (author)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.