Do you ever struggle to stay focused and really listen?  Since we speak 125 to 175 words per minute but we can listen to 400 words per minute, our mind is processing three to four times more words. We have to be intentional about listening if we want someone to feel heard and understood.

Deep Listening

In Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, Oscar Trimboli compares great dialogue to the ebb and flow of the waves on a beach — a natural tempo and movement between the water and the sand.  Trimboli recommends the following steps to achieve deeper understanding and connection:

  1. Listen to Yourself – close your eyes for 15 seconds before a conversation, recognize what is running through your mind, then clear away the clutter and create a space to hear others.
  2. Listen to the Content – start by listening to the speaker’s words.
  3. Listen to the Context — ask thoughtful questions to clarify your understanding, such as “How long have you been thinking about this?” “What assumptions have you made to reach this conclusion?”
  4. Listen to the Unsaid – be curious about the difference between what they want to say and what they are actually saying. Ask the speaker, “Tell me more” or “What else are you thinking?” Treat a pause like another word in the conversation and notice the speaker’s intention.
  5. Listen to the Meaning – content, context and the unsaid all contribute to the meaning. Listening at this deeper level helps us make sense of the discussion and consider a wide range of perspectives and possibilities.

From Words to Action

As a former marketing and technology executive at Microsoft and PeopleSoft and a consultant to American Express, Google, PwC and other global companies, Tromboli learned that the more senior your role, the more listening you should be doing. He advises against trying to fix problems in the initial conversation but committing to taking action and then providing updates on those actions.

You may already practice techniques like active listening, mirroring and paraphrasing.  Can you envision the possibilities of taking your listening to a deeper level?

Have you heard a leader, coach, facilitator or DEI expert talk about creating a safe space?  Miriam Webster defines a safe space as “a place … intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.”  Some people are questioning whether that is truly possible.

An Unrealistic Promise

In The Persuaders, Anand Giridharadas quotes activist Loretta Ross:  “We told people… that we could create safe spaces, when in fact all we can do is create spaces to be brave together. To call people into a brave space was to summon everyone to try something together. To promise people a safe space was to make everyone a promise about everyone else. And that’s impossible to keep.”

Brené Brown explored this issue on a recent podcast in the context of facilitating the Dare to Lead™ work in organizations.  She points out that no one knows all the organization’s history or who has silent power over the people in the room, and no one has control over what happens after the session.

How to Create a Brave Space

Whatever your role, how might you invite people into a space where each individual can choose to be brave in discussing challenging issues like diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?  By asking these questions of each individual first and then exploring them as a group over multiple conversations, ideally with the help of a trained facilitator:

  • What will a successful group conversation look like?
  • What do you need to show up and dig in?
  • What might get in the way of you doing that?
  • What does support look like?

In honor of Martin Luther King, I hope you will take action where it’s needed.

“I had every intention of getting that document to you by the deadline but I always have too much on my plate.”  We all want extra points for good intentions when we don’t follow through on a commitment but we aren’t so generous when a colleague makes excuses for repeatedly missing the mark.

Habits Hold Us Back

Making excuses is one of Marshall Goldsmith’s 20 habits that hold us back.  Goldsmith doesn’t let us off the hook when we blame others or say, “That’s just the way I am.”  Who is responsible for how much is on our plates?  We are.

How Can We Change?

If we want our colleagues’ respect, we have to align our intention and execution.  To do that, we need to look at what’s getting in the way.  Some possible obstacles could be:

  • Selfishness – thinking that our priorities supersede everyone else’s
  • Habit – it can be hard to change if we’ve gotten away with something for many years
  • Accountability – we need help doing what we know we should

I invite you to consider excuses you might be making and why, then make a plan to change that behavior and find an accountability partner.  Practice, repeat, practice, repeat…

team recognition

Most of us have struggled at some point with understanding and connecting with people who are very different from us.  Team orientation versus individual advantage is one area in which that can be particularly difficult.   Those who are very focused on team success might be uncomfortable around someone who asks, “What do I have to do to get promoted?” or “When should I expect my next raise?”  Such questions could trigger a judgmental thought like, “Don’t they care about the team?”

Both And

It can be helpful to recognize that these individuals may be asking for more feedback.  They can care about the team and be motivated by knowing how they contributed to the team’s success.  For these people, the team leader needs to provide individual as well as team recognition – both “me” and “we”.

Me First

A personality assessment like Birkman is a great tool for helping us be aware of our own needs and triggers, so we can stay out of judgment and focus on helping team members get what they need.

You’ve tried to explain your point of view and the other person just won’t listen.  You know you’re right so why should you waste time asking what they think?  If this isn’t you, you have probably experienced a communication breakdown with someone who takes this approach.

Do Your Homework

The first step in resolving a communication breakdown is taking time to reflect.  While this might make some people uncomfortable, feelings are involved.  The Gottman Institute recommends considering the following:

  • Feelings: Examine how you felt
  • Realities: Explore your perceptions, what you saw and heard and what you needed
  • Triggers: Identify previous experiences that might have escalated your reaction and why
  • Responsibility: Acknowledge your own role in the communication breakdown

Move Forward

When you’ve completed your homework, try utilizing The Imago Dialogue format to move the conversation in a new direction with these tools:

  1. Mirroring what you heard
  2. Validating the other person’s perspective even though you may not agree with it
  3. Empathizing with their feelings


Be an MVP

You can be a Most Valuable Partner if you practice MVE (Mirroring, Validating and Empathizing) using this script:

  • Agree on a good time to talk
  • Mirror: “What I heard you say is…Do I have that right?”
  • Other person says “Yes” or corrects your statement
  • Validate: “That makes sense”
  • Empathize: “I can imagine you might be feeling…” This List of Emotions can help.
  • Other person says “Yes” and/or shares other feelings – none are right or wrong
  • Ask the other person whether they are ready to practice MVE or agree on another time in the next 24 hours

As with anything new, this approach takes practice.  You’ll know you’re getting better when your goal is to understand the other person’s perspective – not to defend your position – and when both parties feel heard.

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is about managing a difficult team member.  They say things like, “He is taking up too much of my time” or “She isn’t responding to my suggestions for changing her behavior.”  My response is, “What does that person need that they aren’t getting?”  The leader rarely knows the answer – if they did, they wouldn’t need my help.

Where to Look for Clues

In these situations, I recommend a personality assessment for the team member and the team leader.  This increases their understanding of themselves and each other, especially their similarities and differences.  The assessment also provides suggestions for what each person needs to be most effective.  If someone needs clear cut instructions and their boss is too vague, they will likely want more detail.  That can be frustrating to a boss who is a big picture thinker and wants someone else to fill in the blanks.

Be Intentional

With increased awareness of what they need from each other, these two individuals can make adjustments.  Although it can get easier with practice, it will likely always require intention and feedback.  Asking, “Did you get what you needed?” at the end of a conversation may not be common but it is essential for effective communication and connection.

I invite you to think about a team member who has been a challenge for you.  How might you change your approach to improve the situation?