Introduction:  Oscar Trimboli is an award-winning Author, host of the Apple award-winning podcast Deep Listening and a sought-after Keynote Speaker.

·         Oscar’s third book, How to listen-discover the hidden key to better communication is the most comprehensive book about listening in the work place. Along with the Deep Listening Ambassador Community, Oscar is on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the workplace.

·         Oscar works with Chairs, Boards of Directory and Executive Teams.

 

Podcast episode Summary:  In this episode Oscar shares what he means by the transformational impact of listening, often beyond words, in the workplace. He provides numerous examples of what it means to listen and how. We reference his book across the conversation to illuminate the richness of his research and to expand on the idea that listening is a skill, a strategy, and a practice – a way to balance how you communicate.  

Points made throughout the Episode:

 

o    Who are you? Oscar responded by saying he is really a confused human. He plays many different roles, the role of Grandfather, the role of carer for his Father and someone who loves to hike in the bushlands around Sydney.

o    What motivated you to get into this particular domain, that is listening? Oscar shared 3 stories to answer this question. The first is that as a teenager Oscar required years of orthodontic work and he did not want to draw attention to his features so he became very skilled at asking others questions. The second is that Oscar went to a school with over 23 different nationalities and whilst playing cards teams would tend to form around their own nationalities. Oscar became adept at reading body language. The third story speaks to a seminal moment in Oscar’s career in 2008 at his employer Microsoft. He was part of a larger meeting involved in budget meeting. There were 18 people at the meeting. At the 20 minute mark in this budget meeting Oscar’s boss, Tracy, says “Oscar we need to talk immediately after this meeting” This statement caused Oscar to stop paying attention and to question how he was going to communicate to those that mattered he was about to get fired. Instead the comment altered the trajectory of Oscar’s career and he has dedicated his research and work to decoding the elements of Listening. Essentially his boss said “Oscar if you could code how you listen, you could change the world”

o    That profound insight resulted a body of work where Oscar has coded how to listen and that body comprises 3 books, a quiz a jigsaw game and a playing card game that he runs in many organisations today.

o    The difference between hearing and listening is taking action and Oscar believes he had made a dent in the business of decoding how to listen.

o    What did you have to unearth or discover to know how to code listening? In the moment Oscar had no clue & about 2 weeks later he was asked to audit another budget meeting hosted by the then CFO, Brian. Despite the fact that the meeting proved almost incomprehensible with few people actually speaking, where when Brian spoke people asked clarifying questions, Oscar noticed he was taking a tally of this phenomena and then realised that he as actually beginning  to decode listening.

o    Tracy asked Oscar to code how he listened in order to change the world and what he has used since then to decode how to listen  is the research of deep listening institute, the academic literature and interviews with diverse workplace workers.

o    In all of this work Oscar is trying to make sense of what it takes to help  a person’s listening  move from  simply nodding and muttering to listening to what is not said.

o    Oscar cautions listeners not to try and use a tip they might hear over this podcast on someone that is significant to them to ward against unintended consequences and to make his point he shares a story about his friend Mick.

o    What are the salient features that describe the code of listening?

o    The maths or neuroscience of listening helps people understand why people are not good listeners. The math is as follows;

 

1.     People speak at the rate of 125 words per minute

2.     People can listen at the rate of 400 words per minute

3.     People think at the rate of 900 words per minute.

 

o    What this means is that people can stay in the conversation. Jump ahead and solve or go ahead and judge and anticipate, while they are waiting for the speaker to catch up.

o    Oscar analyses the math and helps us understand that what the speaker shares is 14% of what the speaker thinks and means. Good listeners listen to what is said, Great listeners & deep listeners notice what is not said in the 86%

o    Most of us are dialoguing using the 14% each way and we can get frustrated. If instead a listener remembers that what a speaker says is only 14% of what they think and mean then the listener can move towards helping the speaker elucidate what is in the 86%

o    In teams if you are not taking the time to fully listen this frustration is N squared by the number of people in the room.

o    In the workplace as a listener your job is not to make sense of what is being spoken or thought but to help the speaker express what they think and mean. 

o    As a nugget Oscar shares a framework which he refers to as a listening compass. First he shares that most of us are coded through our educational systems, to listen for similarities. Pattern matching. Pattern matching trains us to listen for similarities and what is divergent.

o    The first question to ask in the compass system is directional to help the speaker say more from their original draft thinking. The question is asked with empathy and genuine curiosity “Say more about that?” This helps the speaker share more about what they are thinking and meaning.

o    The second question works to explore the divergent to help illuminate what else might be considered, different perspectives for example. The question is “what else”

o    The third question is exquisite silence. Silence and listen share identical letters. Silence is like a magnet to draw the speakers meaning to the fore.

o    Silence is a sign of respect, wisdom and authority. A leader can shape the presence of the group or team to listen to each other and not just the active speaker.

o    People can immediately complain that this form of listening will take time when in fact it saves time over time.

o    What are all the ways we assume we listen and we don’t?

o    Listening happens before, during and after the conversation and it is important that as a listener you learn how to listen to yourself.

o    Many of us are not conscious of our own state, the state necessary to be able to listen.

o    Many people are stuck at level one listening, listening to yourself. Level two is listening to the content, level three is listening for the context, level four is listening to what is not said and level five is listening for meaning.

o    91% of workplace listeners are paying attention to a notification that is electronic, some of which are getting closer to our bodies such as our digital watches. We are distracted. We do not know the difference between paying attention and giving attention. We have so many browser tabs open in our mind, we are over flooded and what we want to do is shut them down so that we can give attention and listen.

o    The best tip Oscar can give to those who host meetings it to set the time for the meeting 5 mins past the hour and to run the meeting for 50 minutes, to let people decompress from their previous meeting and be on time for the next.

o    Most people are physically present when they arrive at a meeting but mentally present about 5 minutes after.

o    You can change your state by changing your calendar appointments by 5 mins each side of an hour, by drinking a glass or water and by noticing your breathing and by listening to music before a meeting or conference call

o    Oscar explains why he uses the negative in some of his questioning like asking people to wonder in an exercise “what am I not listening to in  myself” most people are used to listening to the noise so it takes a certain stillness to appreciate what wants to be heard.

o    What are the villains of listening? Oscar, in response to a request from a CEO who wanted to help more in his organisation appreciate the value of listening, did some research to generate a quiz that organisational listeners could take. They based their survey on a few very simple questions like;

 

1.     “what’s the other person doing when they are not listening?”

2.     “What do you struggle with when it comes to listening?”

3.     How do you rate yourself as a listener? And how would you rate others that listen to you?

 

o    It proved interesting that people were able to describe in much greater detail and length what others were doing when they were not listening compared to what they personally struggled with as a listener.

o    Similarly there was a massive differential between a raters self-rating and their rating of others

o    74% of people rated themselves well above or above average for listening and when asked the other way only 12% of people who listened to them rated well or above average. From this analysis the research company were able to build like cohorts which became the Villains of listening. 4 Archetypes emerged.

 

 

1.     People who were unproductively using emotion- they were getting hooked into the story

2.     People who were time or productivity obsessed – they tend to interrupt a lot

3.     People who came across as vague, disinterested or distracted-people who are given the label of lost

4.     A problem solver -they are kind of listening but really they are trying to fix someone -often labelled as shrewd.

 

o    These archetypes are useful to identify the listening behaviours and not used to label the individual

o    Some of the villains are related such as the shrewd and the interrupter they are both time and productivity hungry.

o    Oscar began to talk about a process question in team or group meetings that is often missed. If asked the team and group have permission to check/interrupt respectfully through the course of the meeting to see if they are on track and to adjust as necessary.

o    The question is “what would make this a great conversation” The question is NOT what would make this a great question for you Tara? The reason why Oscar and his team do not add “for you” is because of an understanding about dialogue. In a 1:1 there are always 3 present, the two people concerned and the relationship they co-create between them. Oscar describes it is the speaker, the listener and the dialogue. The question is designed to ask where are we taking the dialogue.

o    In teams it is important to ask this question at the start of the meeting. It is also helpful to ask everyone to jot their answer down on a piece of paper and to indicate a process for sharing as opposed to cold calling on people.

o    This round of asks is not done for the purposes of the host but for every member of the team. There will be times when people drift off, get distracted lose themselves in the meeting and this process can be called up by remembering one or two of the desired outcomes.

o    A good host will notice who is speaking and who is not in a meeting, He or she will determine what role they assume across the meeting. Perhaps roles such as time keeping or note keeping can be shared to increase the listening attention of the group.

o    A potent question to ask during the meeting, not at the end and don’t ask for feedback at the end either because there is not an opportunity to change, is “What is one thing we can we amplify & one thing we can  adjust for the balance of our meeting”

o    This is a technique to get people to listen to each other in a different way.

o    The antidote described above for the person who gets lost is equally valid for any of the four villains

o    Oscar describes what it might sound like for a person who prescribes to the archetype of the drama or emotional listener. They listen for the drama and pull the spotlight over to themselves often to show empathy or connection – if you are this villain ask “where is the spotlight in the dialogue” Is it on the speaker, the listener or on the dialogue. Too much on the listener and it needs to shift, think instead about a third, a third, a third.

o    What happens when the conversations go awry and descends into conflict? In conversation start to notice when people begin to use absolute language such as, “always, never , absolutely, precisely, exactly etc..” This language indicates & showcases the limits of our mental models Oscar shares another story from his experience.

o    Two groups a Finance & Actuarial Group and  sales and marketing Group were trying to agree a pricing structure for their insurance company. The two groups could not agree and began to defend their respective positions based on their understanding of the  organisational structure, incentives, lived experience, educational experience etc.. They could not agree a way forward. Oscars construct is based on the idea that “every model is wrong and some are useful” That is a George Box quote, a statistician.

o    The two groups were coming from very different orientations. In both cases everybody could only see why there model or world view was right.

o    To unpick what was not said, Oscar asked each side to argue for the arguments and rationale of the other. He divided the groups into pairs, where one person from Finance and Actuarial talked with one person form Sales and Marketing

o    The dialogue that ensued was much more energetic and engaged. People were reminded to put up stickies on the wall for information and understanding gleaned in the new conversations. After about 25 minutes into an exercise designed to last longer a person from finance stopped the entire conversation. He told the group that they all had to listen to what had been discovered. Essentially a piece of information assumed by Sales & Marketing to be part of the thinking held by Finance & Actuarial was absent.  

o    The meeting ended early with agreement by both sides. Up until then there had been no attempt to listen for what was unsaid. This is where a group listens for difference rather than similarity as is customary.

o    Many organisations live in conversations and dialogue where they speak from vested interests which has nothing to do with progressing the outcomes of the dialogue.

o    I asked a question that was a version of a level four question to ask how to listen to what is not said so far. I was clumsy and asked a question that was not quite the question I had intended. I really wanted to know if there was anything I had not yet asked Oscar that would be missed by my listeners,  Oscar shared a question that might have served better. He asked “I sense there might be something really useful you could share with the audience that I have not asked into yet?” By introducing the audience we are listening from a different perspective

o    The point here is that for leaders it is important to be conscious of the quality of dialogue, use of words and the intention behind questions.

o    Oscar shared that the two different questions would yield two very different answers one more serving of the podcast listeners than the other.

o    Oscar shared a final story to reveal the power of listening to all the voices in a room . The story of Elaine. This is a story of a team, a top team, working the issue of their growth figures compared to those of their peers. Oscar asked the group to think about two questions;

1.     What animal is our business?

2.     and what are the characteristics of those animals.

o    Most people described the business as some fast moving bird or animal something that was fast and killed. Everybody has spoken except for the CFO, Elaine. The tension in the room was palpable as the CEO was anxious, angry to get to lunch.

o    Oscar invited Elaine to speak with a gesture, an extended arm. She responded by saying. “I thought it was obvious” and she stopped.

o    Again after a few moments and even more tension, Elaine came back and said “I thought it was obvious, I thought we are a snake”

o    The animal, The Snake has negative implications in the west and very different associations in the East.  Elaine explained her reasoning for choosing a snake. She told the group that the business had failed to shed their poor practices & bad systems from the past & that was holding them back from serving their  customers

o    The tension in the room evaporated and a massive dialogue ensued.

o    The CEO admitted they never listened to Elaine. A few months later it was obvious that Elaine had found her voice and she had become a key member and astute commercial leader

o    Oscar ended by asking the audience of the GOT Podcast- what is the cost to the business when you don’t listen to Elaine and or you don’t listen to all the voices in a conversation.

 

Resources shared across this podcast

1.     How to listen- discover the hidden key to better communication by Oscar Trimboli

2.     www.oscartrimboli.com

3.     https://www.oscartrimboli.com/ambassadors/

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