The Power of Connective Listening

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I recently sat down with a friend for lunch. As we were catching up, I began to feel like I was being interrogated rather than participating in a conversation. I’m not saying my friend was intrusively firing questions at me; she was friendly and cheerful as she asked me about the various situations I’ve been facing. She was even asking some good open-ended questions. However, I ended up leaving the conversation feeling like I hadn’t actually been heard.IMG_6706

I suspect most people understand what it takes to show interest in others – remember what is important to the other person and ask open-ended questions – yet we still fail to connect on the deeper levels that each person craves. How is it that my friend did everything she was supposed to do and still left me feeling unheard?

In an earlier blog post, What if you’re wrong?, I introduced the four levels of listening described in the book Real Influence by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen. The first two levels are generally negative and should not be used if at all possible – avoidance (distracted) listening and defensive (reactive) listening.

The third level, problem-solving listening, is very practical and often effective when facts and reason are paramount. However, according to Goulston and Ullmen, “Level 3 listening, especially when matters are complex or emotionally charged, leaves too much room for misunderstanding” (p. 93).

As I pondered the experience with my friend, I realized that this was the level that she had engaged in. Her questions had me focusing on the facts of my circumstances, not the deeper meaning I am deriving from them or how I feel about them. To an extent, it felt as though she were working her way down a list of topics she had to cover and was less interested in actually hearing what I had to say about the topics.  I have to wonder how often I, too, take this approach in relationships – more often than is good, I suspect.

The highest level of listening, Level 4, is called “connective listening.” This is listening to understand and build rapport; your interest at this level is not even in solving a problem but to get underneath the surface of what the person is sharing. According to Goulston and Ullmen, “It’s listening without an agenda, because you’re not focused on responding or even on helping” (p. 94). Only after fully understanding the situation can solutions be explored.

IMG_6867Listening to another person at this level is a powerful way to build a relationship. Whether someone is simply sharing an experience or is venting, responding by asking for more information affirms the speaker and shows your concern for their feelings. It allows them to release all the negative emotions associated with the situation, and consequently they become better able to listen to you in return, further strengthening the relationship.

As I pondered which Biblical story to reference in relation to connective listening, I settled on one that may at first seem unorthodox – the case of King Solomon judging between two mothers who were both claiming a surviving child. We find the story of Solomon’s demonstration of wisdom in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Every teaching I have ever heard has pointed to Solomon’s divinely-sourced discernment, and I do believe God to be the source of wisdom and discernment.

However, when I read it again recently, I can see this is also a case of connective listening. While it isn’t explicitly stated in the Biblical narrative, I believe that the two women stated their cases in very different styles, and I believe that Solomon was able to hear not only the words of the two women but also their hearts. Can you imagine the tone of voice, the body language, the passion of the true mother when she opens her explanation by saying, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house” (v. 17, emphasis mine)?   Can you hear the coldness and bitterness in the voice of the false mother as she says, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours” (v. 22)?

I was further struck by verse 23, in which Solomon simply summarizes the two women’s argument: Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” This very simple statement indicates that Solomon has practiced connective listening; he has heard what the two women said and understood the situation before making any moves to render a judgment that reveals what I suspect he understood from listening to them state their cases.

I believe that connective listening is a powerful tool. It may have the power to not only improve relationships but also to promote justice and mercy. How much suffering can we alleviate simply by listening with open ears and open hearts to those around us? Who can you practice connective listening with today?

 

Links and Resources:

Bible verses quoted from the English Standard Version (ESV)

YouTube Playlist of interview with Dr. Mark Goulston

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

72 Bible verses about listening

Why Is Listening So Hard?

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Today I want to share with you two very short video clips featuring Dr. Mark Goulston, a business psychiatrist, author of Just Listen, and coauthor of Real Influence.  In these clips from an interview, he shares some observations about how well the average person listens and why people might not listen.

To Live A Well-Connected Life

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My first year teaching in S. Korea was challenging in several ways. Not only did I have to adapt to a new culture and language environment, but I also had to adapt to a new student population. I had previously taught college-age international students in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, but that first year in Korea I found myself teaching classes to elementary school students.

St. Louis Botanical Garden

St. Louis Botanical Garden

On top of that, for most of my classes, the mothers of my students sat along the walls of the classroom observing the class. I did the best I could to deliver lessons that were full of content and language practice, but in the end students started leaving my classes because they were bored. In fact, my first teaching contract was not renewed for a second year, primarily because I failed to connect with my students.

As a young and fairly inexperienced teacher, my focus was on the content of my lessons. However, I needed to understand the specific needs and wants of the individual students in my class. For my elementary students, this was their need to have fun and play as well as learn English. By the time I moved to my third teaching position in Korea, working with mid-level managers in an international corporation, I finally began to understand the needs of my students well enough to connect with them in ways that led to their success and mine.

Until I learned to take the students’ perspectives into consideration, I was unable to connect with my students in ways that encouraged them to engage in the lessons I prepared. In their book Real Influence, John Ullmen and Mark Goulston identify a primary cause of disconnection as the “blind spot” in our brains. Because we naturally approach any issue from our own perspective, we fail to consider other perspectives, which creates a mental “blind spot.” They further describe four traps most people fall into when it comes to connecting and influencing others:

  1. the fight or flight response – “your nervous system … doesn’t know the difference between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and an tyrannical boss” leading you to either respond aggressively (fight) or avoid the situation (flight)
  2. the habit handicap – when stressed or challenged, we resort to our “comfort zone” of behaviors that have worked in the past, but which may not be best in the current circumstances
  3. error blindness – being wrong feels just like being right, and it isn’t until we realize our error that we can correct it
  4. the double curse of knowledge – even when you are right, you may find it difficult to explain what you find obvious to a less knowledgeable person.

I think I experienced all four when I moved to Korea!

Through trial and error I eventually learned how to connect with my students. However, I now recognize that John Maxwell has summed up these strategies of how to connect with others in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:

  1. Connect with yourself – know who you are and be confident in your skills and abilities
  2. Know your audience – learn the goals, hopes, and dreams of the people you are working with
  3. Go to where they are – meet people in their circumstances, or as Ullmen and Goulston say, in “their there”
  4. Communicate with openness and sincerity – being transparent is essential to creating a connection
  5. Offer direction and hope – present the positive and optimistic view; there are enough negative voices in the world
  6. Live your message – practice what you preach and you can build credibility
  7. Focus on them, not yourself – show people you care about them and their circumstances
  8. Believe in them – encourage and support people, even at their lowest.

These guidelines have become the backbone of my teaching style.IMG_6764

Many of the Old Testament prophets failed to connect with the people of Israel and Judah, in part due to the nature of their messages of repentance, messages the people simply weren’t interested in hearing. However, a notable exception is Daniel who practiced connected influence as an advisor to the kings of Babylon and Persia.

  1.  Connect with yourself – Daniel had such a clear view of himself that he asked for an exception when given “the king’s delicacies” (Daniel 1:5, 8-16).
  2. Know your audience – when Daniel first approached the chief eunuch about his diet, he demonstrated a concern for the man’s predicament (Daniel 1:8-10).
  3. Go to where they are – Daniel suggested a 10-day trial of a vegetable diet to limit the risk to the chief eunuch (Daniel 1:12).
  4. Communicate with openness and sincerity – when Daniel came before Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his dream, he was clear that he didn’t have the interpretation because he was wiser than any other but because God had revealed it to him (Daniel 2:27-30).
  5. Offer direction and hope – when Daniel gave a negative interpretation for one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, he also gave counsel for how the king could avoid the coming personal disaster (Daniel 4:19-27).
  6. Live your message – when the lower government officials tried to discredit Daniel, they couldn’t find any opening to accuse him of wrongdoing (Daniel 6:4).
  7. Focus on them, not yourself – Daniel humbly served those set above him as well as those under his authority (Daniel 1:8-13; 2:14-18, 24-30, 49; 4:19, 27; 5:17; 6:1-3).
  8. Believe in them – Daniel consistently encouraged the best in the kings he served (Daniel 2:37-38; 4:19, 27; 6:21)

Connecting with others is an important step towards developing a sphere of influence. Daniel exerted a gentle influence upon the pagan kings of Babylon and Persia by connecting with the rulers of those countries. We, too, can exert a similar influence upon those in our sphere of influence if we follow his example and truly begin to connect with those around us.

 

Resources and Links

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Sunday message by Pastor Jeff Abyad on the life of Daniel: Thriving in Captivity

 

 

 

Is It Possible to Influence a Culture?

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After several years of teaching in S. Korea, I found I had learned how to connect with my Korean students, so when I was given the position of lead instructor and had to connect with all forty students in the program, I was able to do so effectively.

at Green Springs Gardens

at Green Springs Gardens

However, I was not very effective when it came to leading the teaching team; I had a harder time connecting with the other English teachers. When conflict developed between two of the instructors who were teaching the same course, I attempted to resolve the situation by sitting down with them together and talking through it. Both instructors behaved professionally and seemed receptive to my suggestions. Imagine my surprise when, ultimately, nothing changed. The two instructors continued not sharing information even though they sat next to each other in the office. It was at this point that I began to question my ability to lead the teaching team.

Because I had not connected well with my teaching team, I had no influence with them. John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell lists seven factors that impact our ability to influence others.

  1. Relationships – who you know. Most people are not easily influenced by strangers; the better you know a person, the greater your potential influence on that person.
  2. Knowledge – what you know. Experts in their field often wield strong influence, whether it is as an expert witness or providing an endorsement for public policy.
  3. Character – who you are. When you are a person of integrity who keeps your word, people begin to trust you and allow themselves to be influenced by you.
  4. Ability – what you can do. When you can demonstrate skills and abilities that are relevant to the problem at hand, people will tend to follow your suggestions.
  5. Intuition – what you feel. When your education, experience, and gifting converge, you may find that your ability to influence increases.
  6. Past success – what you’ve done. Even more than experience, a successful track record will give greater weight to your words.
  7. Experience – where you’ve been. Knowing that you have faced similar situations in the past, many people will allow themselves to be influenced by your present recommendations.

The fact that Christianity is one of the most widely spread religions speaks of the influence exerted by Jesus.

  • Relationships: He established very strong relationships with his twelve disciples (John 6:67-68).
  • Knowledge: His teaching drew vast crowds (Luke 14:25).
  • Character: The people recognized His character and authority (Matthew 7:29).
  • Ability: He proved time and time again that He had the ability to meet people where they were and to bring them into a more abundant life (John 10:10).
  • Intuition: Jesus knew just the right thing to say to each person to impact them for the Kingdom of God. (Nicodemus – John 3, the Samaritan woman at the well – John 4).
  • Past success: He was successful in accomplishing everything He set out to do, from healing the sick and delivering the oppressed to feeding the five thousand and redeeming mankind (John 17:4).
  • Experience: He is God become Man, and so has experienced temptations just like we do (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15).

Many people I talk to have a desire to see change, but they feel they have little or no influence in these areas. However, there is hope; in their book Real Influence, John Ullmen and Mark Goulston list four steps people can take to increase their influence.

  1. Go for great outcomes. This is accomplished through focusing on results, reputation, and relationship.
  2. Listen past your blind spot. When you are focused on your own goals, “your here,” you are not able to connect with people from their perspective, “their there.” This requires “connective listening” (or as Julian Treasure calls it, “conscious listening”) – focusing on understanding the other’s perspective, not on preparing a response or defending your position.
  3. Engage them in their there. When you “get it” (the other person’s situation), “get them” (their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, and dreams), and “get their path to progress” (options and alternatives that empower), you are able to truly connect and exert positive influence.
  4. When you’ve done enough, do more. This means going above and beyond people’s expectations in ways that make you memorable.

According to research by Serge Moscovici in the field of social psychology, a consistent minority can have significant influence even when it is not particularly powerful or prestigious. This is good news for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the thought of influencing culture change. By increasing both our personal and community influence, we can create a more unified voice, and the Church can return to a position of influence in our culture.

 

Resources and Links

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Coursera course in Social Psychology, taught by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University; information about minority influence from lecture 3.4: Group Pressure and Conformity Part 2.

“Moscovici and Minority Influence” on SimplyPsychology.org

100 Bible Verses about Influence

44 Bible Verses about Positive Influence

 

 

Developing Twenty-first Century Leadership

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Bridging the divide between yourself and another is often hard enough, but at times we are called upon to bridge divides between two other people. This calls for more than interpersonal communication skills; it calls for leadership skills.

Mason Neck State Park

Mason Neck State Park

At one point in my overseas career, I was given a leadership role among the teachers I worked with, the position of lead instructor. Suddenly, I was no longer responsible only to the students who were under my care, but I was also responsible for leading my peers and collaborating with the program director, who was Korean. I think I did a reasonably good job of managing the complexity of the job, but I didn’t always do a good job leading all three groups. While I excelled at leading the students and had a strong rapport with the director, I had not yet developed the skills necessary to effectively lead my peers. This led to conflict on my team when two instructors failed to coordinate with each other, and this undermined our ability to function cohesively. My lack of leadership skills prevented me from helping these teachers bridge the differences between them.

Since that time, I have continued to learn the “soft skills” needed to effectively lead groups of independently minded professionals. Without continuing to invest in my own personal growth, I would be not able to increase my effectiveness in leading my classes or my colleagues. In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about “The Law of the Lid.” He explains that your ability to succeed in any endeavor will be limited by your leadership ability. Lower leadership skill leads to small successes, but greater leadership skill enables you to achieve greater successes. Your skill level, in essence, puts a “lid” on your ability, limiting you.

However, there is hope; leadership skills can be learned and improved, but first you need to recognize your current status. Rosalinde Torres poses three questions to help her audience evaluate their effectiveness as modern leaders in her TED Talk “What it takes to be a great leader.” By evaluating your answers to these questions, Ms. Torres believes you can evaluate your impact potential as a 21st century leader.

Jesus is viewed by many as an amazing leader whose work impacted not only his country but also the Roman world and even world history. However, would Jesus’ approach to leadership be effective today? How would Jesus have answered the three questions posed by Ms. Torres?

  1. “Where are you looking to anticipate change?” In other words, what are you doing to grow and learn? How are you monitoring trends and changes in your field?

Jesus began his public ministry when He was 30 years old, and there is very little in the Gospels regarding His previous life. However, in Luke 2:52, we are given a glimpse of His life when it says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (ESV). Jesus must have spent countless hours and expended great energy in studying the scriptures and becoming a man who understood God’s direction and how to interact with people effectively – we see this demonstrated time after time in the Gospels. He clearly invested Himself in the knowledge and skills He needed to be effective in ministry.

  1. “What is the diversity measure of your network?” To what extent are you engaging with diversity and valuing the opinions and views of people who are very different from yourself?

Jesus chose twelve men to be His disciples, and these men couldn’t have been more different in background and temperament. True, several of them were fishermen, but He also called Matthew, a tax collector for the Romans, and Judas the Zealot, who opposed Roman influence and rule, two men who would have been ideologically in conflict (Mt. 10:3-4). These are the men Jesus handpicked; He chose them deliberately. He clearly wasn’t afraid of disagreement!

  1. “Are you courageous enough to abandon practices that made you successful in the past?” To what degree are you willing to take risks on new ventures and new procedures?

Even a quick reading of the healing miracles in the first few chapters of the Gospel of Mark reveals that Jesus took a different approach with each miracle He performed.

  • He took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her out of bed (1:31).
  • He put out His hand and touched the leper (1:41).
  • He told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven (2:5).
  • He told the man with a withered hand to stretch it out (3:5).
  • His garment was touched by the woman with an issue of blood (5:29).
  • He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead by taking her hand and speaking to her (5:41)

Jesus was clearly not lacking in creativity when it came to interacting with and touching people!

Many American Christians today are concerned about the direction our culture is moving in, about the threats to religious freedom and the erosion of morals among our celebrities and leaders. I, for one, am not content to sit by and watch our nation continue to slide further along this path, and I believe the most effective way to turn things around is for Christians to take a more active role at all levels of society. This will require each of us to grow in our ability to lead not only those closest to us but also those with whom we may not agree. If we want to increase our ability to bridge these differences and to see culture change in our communities and our country, we have to emulate Jesus and become the 21st century leaders that Rosalinde Torres talks about.

In the months ahead, I will be writing more about how to become a 21st century leader and the skills needed to effectively connect with those around us.

 

Links and Resources

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Rosalinde Torres’ TED Talk What it takes to be a great leader

22 Bible Verses about Leadership

68 Bible Verses about Being A Good Leader

 

Speaking the Truth in Love

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It is always my goal to help my friends become stronger, healthier, and happier in some way.  However, there have been times when my advice has not only fallen on deaf ears but also may have damaged the friendship.

St. Louis Botanical Garden

St. Louis Botanical Garden

One such case happened when I was still living overseas.  I became very close friends with a Korean American co-worker, and for a season we were inseparable, frequently eating dinner together and spending much of our free time together.  Things started changing when I was transferred to a different training facility, but I think what may have increased our separation was my unsolicited “helpful” advice on an issue she was dealing with.  I suspect my suggestions were delivered too strongly and she couldn’t “hear” me.

The Apostle Paul instructs Christians to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:13), and over the past several years, I have been working on doing this more effectively, though I still fall short so often. This is usually an issue when there is conflict or disagreement, not when life is running smoothly. There has been much that has been written and said about how to approach a conflict. Therefore, it is not my intention to address the when’s and why’s here (see resources for a link to a message on resolving conflict that addresses these two issues), but more of the how’s – what does it actually mean to speak “in love”?

In his TED Talk “How to speak so that people want to listen,” Julian Treasure lists what he calls the seven deadly sins of speaking.  Each of these are ways of NOT “speaking in love,” and they are:

  1. gossip – talking about others
  2. judging – evaluating others, especially negatively
  3. negativity – focusing on the pessimistic perspective
  4. complaining – focusing on problems
  5. excuses – refusing to accept responsibility
  6. exaggeration – overstating reality
  7. dogmatism – stating opinion as if it were fact

We have all been guilty of some, if not all, of these “sins,” whether they have been verbalized or not.  However, what I notice about this list is that each of these “sins” starts with an emphasis on your own perspective, without consideration of the listener’s perspective.  Both John Ullmen and Stuart Diamond talk about the importance of starting from the other person’s perspective, especially when negotiating or dealing with disagreement.  I think this is a key to being able to “speak in love.”

When I think about a model of “speaking in love,” I see Jesus Christ as the best example.  In every interaction He had with individuals, we see Him speaking into the other person’s perspective.  He had the power and authority to speak the words of heaven, and yet He met each person right where they were and spoke the words they needed to hear.  I think the Book of John has some great conversations, including the discussion with Nicodemus about being born again (chapter 3) and His meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well and their conversation about living water (chapter 4), among others.  In each of the conversations, Jesus takes the approach that is most effective for the particular person He is speaking with.

Julian Treasure gives his solution to the seven deadly sins of speaking through the acronym “HAIL” (in the sense of “all hail the conquering hero”), including “speaking in love”:

  • Honesty – speaking the truth
  • Authenticity – being yourself
  • Integrity – doing what you say
  • Love – wishing people well

I would venture that these are a great place to start, but Mr. Treasure has left out one very important element that is available to all Christians – the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I think that is what made Jesus such a powerful communicator; He depended upon God’s guidance and only spoke what He heard the Father speak (John 12:49).  We, too, have that guidance available to us.  Perhaps it is time we were more mindful of checking with God for His perspective and His words before engaging in conversations, especially with those closest to us and with those who have very different perspectives.

 

Links and Resources:

Rick Warren’ message on Resolving Conflict, part of the “You Make Me Crazy” message series

Julian Treasure’s TED Talk “How to speak so that people want to listen”

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Stuart Diamond speaking at Google about the concepts in his book Getting More.

100 Bible verses on speaking the truth in love

Speaking to be Heard

Video

Do you find yourself frustrated by a lack of influence?  Sound consultant and communications expert Julian Treasure shares his “Seven Deadly Sins of Speaking” – habits of communication that prevent others from hearing what we have to say – and gives his perspective on what makes more effective communication.