The success of top executives depends on successful listening, the difference between mere critical reaction and proactive facilitative leadership. Unfortunately, many brilliant professionals never fulfill their potential as leaders and executives because they never learn to listen well.
Bernard T. Ferrari was a surgeon and COO of New Orleans’ Ochsner Clinic before getting his law degree at Loyola University and an MBA from Tulane. Ferrari then worked for twenty years with McKinsey Consulting before opening his own company, and is perhaps one of the world’s most knowledgeable people on executive listening, which he synthesizes into three keys:
SHOW RESPECT: Great executives recognize that others will generally have the know-how to develop good solutions, and that their job is to help draw out critical information from others and put it in a new light. They don´t just give advise and solutions to their reports. Being respectful doesn’t mean not asking tough questions; they are necessary to uncover the information needed for better decisions and ensure the free and open flow of information and ideas.
KEEP QUIET: Great executives get their conversation partners to speak 80 percent of the time, while they speak only 20 percent of the time, mainly to ask questions. It’s not easy to stifle the impulse to speak, but with patience and practice we can learn to control the urge and improve the quality and effectiveness of our conversations by weighing in at the right time. As we improve our ability to stay quiet, we also begin to use silence more effectively to spot nonverbal cues we might have missed otherwise.
CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS: Great executives seek to understand and challenge the assumptions that lay below the surface of their own beliefs and opinions. Most of us, however, struggle as listeners because we avoid questioning our own assumptions and opening ourselves to other possibilities that can only be drawn from conversations with others. Too many good executives, even exceptional ones who are highly respectful of their colleagues, inadvertently act as if they know it all and subsequently remain closed to anything that undermines their beliefs. We become better listners, leaders and facilitators when we scrutinize our own assumptions.
By showing respect to our conversation partners, remaining quiet so they can speak, and actively opening ourselves up to examine our own assumptions, we can all better cultivate this valuable skill.
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