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Transcript: The Importance of Listening Skills (EP64)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.

Voiceover: To all of our loyal listeners, The Culture of Things podcast will now also have specific episodes produced for YouTube. To ensure you don’t miss out on this exclusive YouTube content, head on over to YouTube, click the subscribe button and hit the notification bell. Now, let’s get into the episode...

Brendan: Hello and welcome to The Culture of Things podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers. Today we are recording episode 64. I have a man by the name of Oscar Trimboli on the other end of the line, Oscar, how are you today, mate?

Oscar: Good day, Brendan. Really looking forward to listening to your questions.

Brendan: Thank you, mate. You are the Deep Listening man, which is our topic for today. What I'm going to do, mate, I'm going to read out some of your bio so that people have an understanding of your expertise and some of the stuff you're involved in, and then we'll get into the chat. How does that sound?

Oscar: Sounds great to me.

Brendan: Awesome, mate. Oscar is on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world. He's an author and host of the Apple award-winning podcast, Deep Listening. He's passionate about using the gift of listening to bring positive change in workplaces. Oscar has experienced firsthand the transformational impact leaders and organizations can have when they listen beyond words.

He consults with organizations including American Express, AstraZeneca, Cisco, Google, HSBC, L'Oreal, PwC, and Stryker helping chairs, boards, and executives in their teams listen to what's unsaid by the customers and employees. Oscar lives in Sydney with his wife Jenny where he helps first-time runners and ocean swimmers conquer their fears and contributes to the cure of cancer as part of Can Too, a cancer research charity. 

As I said earlier, the focus of our conversation today is the importance of listening skills. Oscar, an official welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.

Oscar: Good day, Brendan. Thank you for that warm welcome and hello from Wallumedegal Country, that's the land on which I'm part of and they have a beautiful word for listening here. Over the millennia, they've curated the lands, they've listened to the lands, the people, and themselves. It's called dadirri. It means listen to yourself first, your people, and your lands.

There's a lot we can learn from ancient wisdom. Whether it's our indigenous communities, Inuits in North America, or jungle tribes all around the world, listening is something we all know how to do, we've just forgotten how to do it.

Brendan: Thanks for sharing that, mate. What was the word?

Oscar: Dadirri.

Brendan: Dadirri. Fantastic. Just on that, how much research have you done in various ancient cultures?

Oscar: When you're listening and you're speaking to people about the topic, you're really lucky because people will say, hey, here's some information, here's a context. I'm particularly passionate about the annual cultures of North America. They're known as Eskimos, but there's a very specific culture to them as well. They do an amazing job around listening.

The ancient and high context cultures of China, Japan, and Korea listen very differently to western workplaces. The Australian Indigenous community, the Maori of New Zealand, the Polynesian cultures of the Pacific all value silence in a really different way. In fact, in western workplaces, we have this language that's called the deafening silence, the awkward silence, the pregnant pause. We have all this negative language around silence.

The ancients taught us some of the most fundamental things about listening. The pause, there's no coincidence that the word listen and the word silent have exactly the same letters. So in terms of research, I've been doing this research for well over a decade, not just researching literature through cultural connections.

I was very grateful to Dr. Tom [...], he’s originally from Malaysia. He's done a lot of cross-cultural consulting work throughout the Asia Pacific region. But also, being exposed to elders, aunties, and uncles in indigenous communities who noticed that I'm thirsty, I'm curious, I want to learn more. We've also done fundamental research as well, Brendan.

We've got the listening quiz where well over 12,000 people have taken the quiz. We've worked with data scientists, market research companies, and academics around the four villains of listening, which I'm sure we'll touch on at some point today. My wife would call it an obsession.

Brendan: That's not a bad thing to be called or what you're into. My wife uses other words to explain my obsessions and things like that. That's absolutely fascinating, and you are 100% right, it would be remiss of us not to go into the four villains. I need to share my own villain. Obviously, you can unpack that for me a little bit.

One of the things that I want to ask you around what you've just said, have you found any culture or cultures that are better listeners than others without formal training or listening?

Oscar: Listening is relational, it's situational and contextual. Cultures listen in their own ways. The research I've done is western English-speaking workplace cultures. I can talk to that, but on the secondary research, academic reviews that I've done in Eastern Europe and South America, as an example, talking over the top of somebody and a Westerner would perceive that as interruption is actually a sign of very good listening and a tight relationship.

You talk over the top of somebody in Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, or in South America, in the Spanish-speaking cultures, the Portuguese out of Brazil, even faster. So cultures have differences, but there's one thing that's consistent across all cultures no matter what research we've looked at. Everybody thinks they're a better listener than what they are, and yet, when you speak to the person who's the speaker trying to be heard, not the listener.

On average, three out of four people think they're an above average listener, above average. Yet, when we do the research on the speaker side, they say, 50% of people are average listeners, and nowhere near three-quarters of people are well above average. I think for many of us, the context of your culture, we can think about that as microcosms within organizations as well, Brendan. It's not necessarily something that's a country.

That culture of the finance department will be very different from the culture of the sales teams as an example. The conversation, the vocabulary that people use, the length of time they expect an answer back from are all very different. But unfortunately, there's one universal truth. Everybody thinks they're a better listener than what they are because they were never taught how.

Brendan: I think that's a universal truth in leadership, which is obviously a big part of the topics of our conversations on The Culture of Things. But how often do leaders maybe think they're a little bit better at something, and then they get feedback from their team if they're open to that, and they're not quite where they feel they are themselves.

Oscar: Look, Brendan, I think the lucky ones get feedback from their team. I'm going to ask you a question. I want you to think about a leader you know who doesn't listen. I don't want you to name them, I just want you to think about them and picture them in your head. I think there are some big consequences for that leader, for their leadership team, for their customers, for their suppliers, for the community they're part of.

There are some big costs. Projects run over schedule consistently. They're more expensive, they don't deliver to the quality standards, or worse still, they deliver on time that they don't deliver what the customer or the employee is expected. I think, Brendan, as you're thinking about this leader right now, what's one thing you think they would benefit from if you and I had a conversation on that part of their leadership right now?

Because listening happens before, during, and after the conversation. I think too many leaders think the conversation is filling this survey, oh, I need to work on that until next year, and they forget it for 12 months, and then they do another survey. That's hearing, that's not listening. The difference between hearing and listening is action. Brendan, just come back thinking about that later. What's a question they might ask me or what will be a question you'd be curious about on their behalf?

Brendan: You warned me you were going to do this, mate, and you've it so early in the interview. Is that really acceptable? Mate, fantastic question as always. You've asked me a number of great questions, even when we caught up a couple of weeks ago. Watching a few people that have been in leadership roles that spring to mind that I've had some involvement with. The thing that I know that they would ask is, how do I be more present with people?

Oscar: What do you say?

Brendan: To me, a lot of that is in the preparation and the intent. I think that all of us—and I'm by no means a perfect listener, as I know, you've said you're not a perfect listener even though you know this stuff, but we make ourselves live such busy lives. We choose to live such busy lives. Therefore, we're squeezing so much in.

I'm a terrible person at this. My wife reminds me a lot. One of the things I do, family-wise, is, if there are two minutes, I'll try and grab that two minutes to do something, and then that'll make me late for something else. It takes me a bit of time to then be present because you've got to breathe, put yourself in that moment. Okay, I'm ready, but that's not even that respectful to the other person's time because it's like I'm preparing on their time.

Oscar: When was the first time you noticed that you're trying to squeeze in those two minutes?

Brendan: Can I say it was so long ago that I don't remember? For as long as I do recall, I would have done that. Let me say I've had my consulting business since 2015, towards the end of 2015. I think a big part of that on my own is I can be quite impatient. I know what I'm trying to achieve. I know what I want to do. I know how I want to help people.

To me, sometimes I just need to go fast, I need to go slow. Marky, our producer and who's heavily involved in this podcast, he helps me do that absolutely. So I'm finding myself having some of that accountability through my producer and business partner that is helping me do that more, but doing that for myself is probably an error. I've let myself down over the years.

Oscar: Yeah, because it's interesting. We started talking about presence and now we're talking about impatience. I'm curious, what's that about? What's the impatience about?

Brendan: The impatience of knowing where I want to go, but it takes time to get there. I fully understand the process. I do have a very process-orientated mind. I'm like, okay, this is where I'm going and I know that every day, I'm making steps to improve that.

Sometimes, when I'm just trying to help people, in my own background in leadership development and in my own experience as a leader is I know every day that I'm not achieving something, then there's another leader that's maybe falling out of the leadership space because they haven't had the support around them that they've needed. So for me, there's an element of urgency around that.

Oscar: Do you think about that leader right now if they were listening to our call, they would want urgency or they would want sustainability?

Brendan: Sustainability. I feel like I need to be lying on a couch. We should do Culture of Things on the couch.

Oscar: For those of you listening, we're going to explain what I just did. This proves the 125-900 rule that the very first thing that Brendan said wasn't what he actually meant. When you help the person you're speaking with to understand what they're thinking and ultimately what their meaning is, it's going to be a different conversation. So we started off a presence, but we've landed at sustain.

Brendan: Talk us through what you've just done with me, Oscar, because that's a real-life example. I didn't even need to ask you like, tell us a story. You've just done this with me. Talk us through what you've done.

Oscar: I will, but I'm curious what sustainability means for you right now.

Brendan: Sustainability in that context means that I'm able to help people who are either already in leadership roles or wanting to move into leadership roles and develop as a leader. That I can help provide them some ongoing support, not through myself being there, but tools at their own pace, direction that really helped guide their journey along the way. They are feeling supported without having somebody actually be by their side 100% of the time. That's a scalable level of sustainability as well.

Oscar: This is when I talk to leaders in the workplace. This is not an unusual conversation around—it's about presence. What's that about? It's about patience. What's that about? You eventually will land somewhere where you literally went, not sure if you noticed you did that.

Brendan: I will when I play it back.

Oscar: For those of you listening, you can go back about 45 to 60 seconds and you'll hear Brendan go, hmm. This is a key cue to listen for. Once you've got that person, their state changes, their breathing changes. If you're watching on video, you'll notice that Brendan's body posture changed ever so slightly. Your shoulders went back a little bit further. You took a slightly larger breath and it went, hmm.

You know now this person is processing, not at the superficial level, but was something that's really useful. The reason I'm using this example is I think it's helpful for everyone in the audience. So please email Brendan, what does sustainability mean for you? What does sustainability mean for you? Brendan, what email address should they send that to?

Brendan: Mate, I'm trying to get my email down.

Oscar: No, I think it's a great way to hear from the audience.

Brendan: I always mention at the end of the show, but it's brendan@brendanrogers.com.au. My email is across all sorts of channels. So, well-known.

Oscar: I think this is signaling to you we’re listening to you. Thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast. What have I just done? I've literally stepped you through the five levels of listening. The very first thing that gets in everybody's way, we're tracking 1410 people in a longitudinal study. That's a multi-year study, where we see how they're making improvements based on the tips and techniques we've provided for them when they go and visit listeningquiz.com.

The number one thing that people say they want to improve is either their presence or their focus. They use those words interchangeably. I don't. Presence is how you turn up, focus is how you stay in. So presence is, what's my intention, what am I coming to this conversation for? Am I coming to the conversation to load up my arguments? No matter what I say, I'm going to hear something, then I'm going to load into my argument, and just fire it straight back.

That's an interesting state of presence. That's maybe what you see on TV shows where you might see interviews going on between politicians and the host. But in this moment, what I invite us all to do is just be present in a state of curiosity. What would make this a good conversation for me, and what would be a good conversation for Brendan? Both of those things are interesting, but not powerful. What's more powerful is what's going to make it useful for you who are listening.

There's always a third person who's not in the conversation, Brendan, that if we adopt that position, the conversation feels much more sustainable. So the first thing we need to notice is, how are we showing up to the conversation? Are you rushed? Did you just switch off your phone, or you just finished on a call and you jumped straight into the next meeting? Can you take 30 seconds to switch the notifications off on your Mac or your PC, on your iPhone or your Android? Switch the notifications off. 

I'm not going to suggest just switch the devices off, this is impractical. But for many of you listening right now, to turn your notifications off, I sound like a drug dealer who's just taken away your drugs because I used to sell the technologies with the little red dots on them and the little notification windows where your email comes up. I know the fundamental research that sits behind that and the use of brain chemicals to get you excited to release oxytocin when a notification comes up and you can't wait to be distracted from it, or a little buzz or a little beep from your phone.

This was originally done by the poker machine industry in Las Vegas. The research was done to make sure people just kept putting money in those poker machines. Just 30 seconds is all I'm asking. Switch the notifications off on your devices, drink a glass of water, and take three deep breaths. That's 30 seconds. It is so easy to say, Brendan, isn't it? But it's difficult to practice.

Brendan: Absolutely.

Oscar: I know you took a glass of water beforehand. How easy is it to practice those three things? Notifications off, drink a glass of water, three deep breaths to consistently sustainably practice.

Brendan: If you're conscious about it and have a deliberate intent about it, then to me, it's very, very simple. But isn't it always those things that are easy to do, they're also easy not to do? Which are often the best things to do.

Oscar: In our database, we know those people who say 86% of people say their devices and their presence is getting in their way before they even get to the conversation. They literally have a radio station playing a whole bunch of noise from the last conversation, the next conversation, the anticipation of the conversation. Or it feels like, for some people, that they have so many browser tabs open in their own mind that their memory is overloaded.

Listening done poorly is a highly intensive thing to do that people will literally say their head hurts. If it does, you're doing it in an unproductive and unsustainable way. Let's talk about that because, for many of us, we think it's our job to understand everything the speaker says. Although that's interesting, powerful, deep, sustainable leaders and listeners help the speaker understand what they're trying to say back to this 125-900 rule.

You speak at 125 words per minute, Brendan, but you can think it up to 900. I suspect with your impatience, you're probably up on the 10% decile, which is 1600 words per minute. You just do the math. You got 1600 words per minute stuck in your head, you can say 125. So there's a lot of stuff that's left behind.

We left impatience behind, we left sustainability behind when you said presence. One of your jobs as a listener, and please, listening is not therapy. Therapy is therapy. Commercial listening in the workplace is a really powerful way to grow sales, to keep awesome employees, to have a culture that people want to be part of. I want to make a quick distinction here. There's a big difference between cults and cultures. Cultures are inclusive and cults are exclusive, so be careful which one you're curating.

When you come in and you start to listen to what people don't say as a leader, your profits go up, your projects land on time, and employees want to refer great people to your organization. That's the upside of listening. The downside, you lose customers, or worse, you get the wrong customers. The promises you made to that customer you're not able to fulfill. They become a really unprofitable customer.

That's bad news for you, but it's actually worse than that. They will tell their friends that you're a terrible supplier. The referral impact of not listening is even bigger. If you deal with regulators and you're in regulated industries, you will have a tougher time with your audits if you're not listening to the regulators, and you're not listening to your quality teams and your risk teams as well.

So please know this, when it comes to listening as a leader, it's important to listen to what they say. Most of us don't do a great job of that, but the power is to ask the question, what else and what does that mean?

Brendan: You've really framed up the importance of listening skills well and the impact that they have. Thinking about my own journey, and I guarantee that this will be the journey of so many other people that have been in organizations, sporting teams, life in general, the only real advice I've ever got around listening is you've got one mouth, two ears, use them in that proportion. It's like, thumbs up, thanks very much.

What I've learned through your book, looking at some of the information you have on your website, and doing the listening skills, there's a bit more to that. So the question to me is, if this stuff is so important and it has such an impact, why are we so (can I say) not smart in taking up this area of leadership development and people development because it works everywhere?

Oscar: In the western workplace, we’re obsessed with the cult of the heroic leader, the orator. That goes way back into the 1900s, 1912 in the US where they started teaching the first leadership communication courses, and all they taught was oration and rhetoric. I had to convince somebody through a straw argument that they're wrong and you're right and they should follow you.

This is fine in a world where only 20 years earlier, there was a vast movement of people from farming lands into the cities. I wanted to teach people repetitive tasks to do in factories. In Canary Ford, you can have any car you want as long as it's black. He created a way of working that required limited thinking from the employees that were participating in the process.

They had one job, rivet the wheels into the car. They had one job, trim the upholstery around the seat. They had one job, make sure that the car went out in under three minutes. Wind the clock forward now, the world of work is very different. There are still people who perform those tasks, but those tasks are robotic and it's not a surprise that robots will take those tasks.

But more than likely, Brendan, for those listening, you're in some kind of profession where creativity is important, collaboration is important. The idea is that you're trying to come up to solve very complex problems that aren't robotic, aren't step one, step two, step three. You probably look at multiple options. You probably have to collaborate with people across countries, languages, time zones, all different kinds of things.

Now, if teaching people how to speak as a leader was the communication skill of the 20th century, I believe that the 21st century will be led by people who can listen beyond the words, to start to listen to what's not said. Now Brendan, remind me again, in school, you did maths, you probably studied a language, and you did a little bit of science, right?

Brendan: I did.

Oscar: Yeah. Now, can you remember the name of the teacher that had the biggest impact on you?

Brendan: I would say in high school, there was a guy called Peter Jolly. I don't actually remember that he was a direct teacher of mine, but I had some involvement with him through sport and, I guess, extracurricular activities. What I remember about him was he was so approachable, so focused, so deliberate about when you spent time with him, he was focused on helping you get good outcomes and actually, I guess, you could say listening. You felt like you were heard when you were with him.

Oscar: And how did it feel to be in his presence?

Brendan: He was just a good guy. He felt like a good guy to be around. As a young teenager in high school, that's an impressionable time. That did have some impact on me.

Oscar: So there you have it. I'm not going to age you, but decades and decades ago, you had a random conversation with this person and he wasn't even your teacher. But because they listened to you, you remember them many decades down the path. They probably had an influence on your schooling. What did you do differently because of Mr. Jolly?

Brendan: I was more there myself, more engaged. For anything, you certainly wouldn't say anything bad about that teacher. I’ve had others to say bad things about. If he asked you to do something, you would do it. You didn't want to disappoint someone like that that you respected.

Oscar: Everything you've just described is how people turn up at work and want from a leader. They want their presence. They want to give discretionary effort on their behalf. They want to not disappoint them. This is the impact of listening many, many, many, many decades down the track. Here's the funny thing. Now, I want you to go back to school, Brendan, with me for a moment and put yourself in the room.

Brendan: That's a couple of decades and a half, mate.

Oscar: I want you to zoom into the room around that time where Mr. Jolly was teaching you. I want you to sit in a chair. Maybe it had a desk, maybe it didn't, it doesn't matter. At the front of the room was your listening teacher. You had a subject about listening, right?

Brendan: No. 

Oscar: Yet it’s something we’d do for half our time.

Brendan: It wasn't a dedicated subject, but I assume we were supposed to do some of that in all of the subjects.

Oscar: Yeah, but isn't it funny? It's like you spend 50% of your day listening. If you're a leader, you're going to spend more of your day listening. If you're a team leader, it's about 60% of your time. If you're a manager of managers, it's about 75% of your time. If you're an executive in a complex organization or a chief, you're spending up to 83% of your day just listening.

We didn't get taught it at school. We don't even know what the framework is. Brendan, maths class. There are four basic operators when it comes to maths. I want you to finish them. The first one is add, the second one is subtract, third one is divide, and the fourth one is multiply, right?

Brendan: I'd agree with that.

Oscar: We all remember this. What's the equivalent for listening? 

Brendan: Listen, listen, listen, and listen, and be reminded to listen.

Oscar: The reason we don't know is because we've never been taught in the workplace. Two percent of people have been taught how to listen. There is no coincidence that they are correlated with high performance profitably. If they're in a public sector organization, their outputs are more impactful than if they're not chasing profit motives.

Employees are more engaged, customers refer more, the actual sales process is shorter, and the process of sales is more profitable because it takes less time. There are all these upsides of listening. I think for some of those 2%, they want to keep the secret to themselves. But for the rest of you listening right now, I would say, here's the start of the journey. Take the listening quiz that Brendan has taken. Brendan, how long did it take? Five minutes, seven minutes?

Brendan: Absolute max, five minutes.

Oscar: And you got a five-page report that said you were...

Brendan: Do I have to let you know? Apparently, I'm a dramatic listener and I can certainly see some of that when I read it. It doesn't sound good, though.

Oscar: First things first, labels are really good on food jars and pharmaceutical products. They're not labels on people, they're labeling your listening behavior. So your listening behavior has elements of dramatic. The four villains of listening that we're going to talk about, dramatic is the first one, interrupting is the second, lost is the third, and shrewd is the fourth. Easy way to remember it, DILS, the DILS of listening.

Dramatic listeners want to create an emotional connection with the person they're speaking to, but they very quickly flip the conversation back to being all about them. I can tell you a real example where I saw dramatic listening in action. Just yesterday, my dad's in the hospital with a stroke. He's okay, so nobody needs to worry. He's in the best place for him. It happened about two weeks ago.

My auntie turned up and we organized the schedule and crossed over. So my auntie turns up and my dad just finished lunch with me about 15 minutes earlier. He loves the custard. He couldn't get through the shepherd's pie. He kept telling me, I'm full, I'm full, I'm full. Eventually, he stopped on the shepherd's pie and said, I'm full, but I said, dad, there's still custard. He can't speak but his eyes lit up like, I'm going to eat the custard. So I think sometimes, there's a special place in our tummy for desserts. There's always a little bit of extra room.

Brendan: We all have a weakness.

Oscar: I love cheese. That's my weakness, Brendan. Me and my mom, we can sit down with a block of cheese and demolish it. That's my weakness. Not chocolate. My wife is the chocolate in the family and I'm the cheese.

Brendan: Is there some good Italian wine with the cheese?

Oscar: There is on my mum's side, but I don't drink. Never have in my whole life, and that's the story for a whole another day. My mum likes a good drop of Pinot Grigio. My auntie arrives just 15 minutes after my dad finished lunch. She, of course, being a good Italian auntie, brought more food at half-past two in the afternoon, and my dad's completely full. In fact, he's falling asleep. 

She says, I brought food. I've got mango for dessert, I've got pasta, and dad, very slowly, because his tongue doesn't work really well at the moment, says, I'm full. Straightaway, my auntie turns it around and goes, you never eat my food. Why do you eat everybody else's food? You don't want to eat my food.

Now at that moment, some of us in the workplace, we turn up and we'd say, can I just talk to you about my boss? I'm really struggling with my boss, I'm new to the organization. I'm curious, they jump in, and they say, oh, wow, you think you've got a bad boss, let me tell you about my boss, they're even worse. What the dramatic listener is trying to do is just create an emotional connection between the two of you, but they jump over to the other side of the conversation and they put this drama spotlight on them.

So if you're a dramatic listener, your job is just a pause in that moment where you want to jump in, create that connection, and ask yourself, this is it, is what you're about to say next about you or about them? That's all you need to do as a dramatic listener. Now, Brendan got a beautiful report, it's got three action steps for him to take. Whatever listening villain you are, you can do this.

So Brendan, let's just spend a bit of time with the interrupting because I don't want to do therapy on you for dramatic, unless you do, of course. But remember, listening is listening. It's not therapy.

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Brendan: I would like to make a comment and maybe you can expand on that or give me some advice. It's probably going back to something we talked about in regards to feedback and people perceiving themselves one way. What you explained, although I'm being very deliberate and conscious about that because see, working with clients, coaching, me doing that often would not be very, very helpful at all in the situation in the client work I do.

I did have a bit of a challenge in my own mindset about—I'm not saying I'm not that, but when am I doing that? So I do need to be far more conscious of what the reports told me over the coming months to say, oh, geez, that's when I am being that person.

Oscar: Yeah. Focus on the label and the behavior. For you, the easiest place for you to listen and ask questions to unpack something is it about you, or is it about helping the person you're working with? What I love you to do is, right now, thinking about, you probably did the report in the last week or so. Something's bubbled to your consciousness that you're approaching listening in a different way. What shifted a little bit for you?

Brendan: Understanding the report. Fantastically, you explained (just previously) the bit that I felt that I wasn't or that I'm not that. That's probably where I started to familiarize myself with that part of the dramatic listening. Did I attach myself to that more so than some of the other bits? No. Actually, I think I am part of those things. That familiarization, I suppose, I think you referred to it at other points in other podcasts.

Oscar: It's interesting because when I'm in a conversation with a dramatic listener, always go, it’s not me, it's not me, and it's straight into their feelings. Then I said, that's okay, just read it fully and they go, ah, ah, yeah, ah, yeah, yeah.

Brendan: So you're telling me I've just answered my own question verbalized.

Oscar: Just dial in the last week. Think about this. Not your most productive client conversation, but your least productive client conversation. I don't want you to give away any details.

Brendan: Okay.

Oscar: Have you got it?

Brendan: Yup.

Oscar: Are you in that room? Were you in this room when you had it?

Brendan: I was on Zoom.

Oscar: Yeah. I want you to picture the background of the person you're speaking to just to dial you in a little bit more.

Brendan: Okay.

Oscar: Now, what was the one thing that was unproductive for them in that conversation? Keep it thematic, not specific to the content.

Brendan: The one thing that was…?

Oscar: Unproductive in the conversation. Maybe I went too long, it was a rabbit hole that you went down that really wasn't the place you should have been, or it was something that...

Brendan: It was the rushness. I was getting back to that point before. It was rushing. The inability to unpack things that needed to be unpacked due to the time pressure.

Oscar: Was it time pressure or was it you weren't necessarily listening in the way you needed to?

Brendan: I think I need to say that I probably wasn't listening as well as I could have.

Oscar: Yeah, because you've got this false pressure going on. When I work with my clients, I say, in our conversations, in our workshops, in the training, and in the coaching, you are not paid for the speed of the response. You're paid for the quality of the response.

Just making it okay to slow down, all of a sudden, you can see the weight lifted off your shoulders. In that conversation where, I guess, we're back to the very first conversation we had today about sustain, what's one thing you need to change, improve? What's the one thing that you go, okay, now, I look back at this conversation, when it comes to my listening, this is what I would do next time differently?

Brendan: The allocation of more time and not back to back.

Oscar: Here's a couple of hacks because, Brendan, right now, I'm using you as a proxy for all the leaders who are listening right now. Don't start your meeting at the hour or the half-hour. Whether you're using Outlook or Gmail, you can set up the default to be 5 or 10 minutes past the hour. The number of times I turn up at five past where people just go, thank God, you put that extra five minutes in there, Oscar, because I was able to go to the restroom, I was able to compose myself.

The conversation starts from a place of presence, not a place of how to uncompress before I even have the conversation. So hack number one, start it 35 minutes past the half-hour, and make the meeting five minutes shorter at the end. Our core promise in the Deep Listening community is you get four hours a week back in your schedule, and I'm pretty hardcore about shaving this time off pretty quickly.

Eventually, we get you to make your one-hour meetings, half an hour meetings. But we start by shaving off five minutes at each end of the conversation for the 1-hour meeting and shave 5 minutes off for the 30-minute meeting. It means you arrive in a state of presence. With some clients in the early days, guess what happened, Brendan? The meetings were five past the hour, when do you think they turned up?

Brendan: A little bit after five past the hour.

Oscar: Most of them do it because they've got a meeting they go to, or some people turn up on the hour, even though the meeting is scheduled to start at five past because they're so habituated into back to back to back half an hour. That's so habituated. They just turn up. In the early days, I would log into the meeting on the hour because I knew some of my clients would want to be there back to back to back.

Here's the thing that I noticed, the clients that came in at five past, our meetings finished quicker. The clients are turned up on the hour, the meetings took a little bit longer because they needed that space to just stop, just be present, reset their context, get ready for this conversation. So if you have mastered the half-hour, dial it back to 25 minutes if you've mastered to bring a 1-hour meeting back to 55 minutes. This is true for team meetings as well. It's not just one-on-one conversations.

The next step in that journey is to play your favorite song between the top of the hour and the time the meeting starts. That will reset your listening consciousness. We listen very differently. More different parts of the brain fire up when you're listening to music. It will literally recharge your listening batteries because when you're listening to dialogue, it's very different from listening to music.

So please, if you mastered that hack and you got your five minutes back, Brendan, play your favorite song. Pick whatever tempo you want. That won't matter but just play a song. Instrumental versus somebody playing a song and saying it out loud, it won't matter. But again, your state will be very different.

If you're at the end of the lunchtime session and you're drained, play music, drink water, take three deep breaths, you're all there. We've only got to dramatic, but I want to stay with your question because I sense it's a question the audience wants to ask. What's different in your thinking now I'm telling you to shave five minutes off at the beginning and end of all your meetings?

Brendan: I just need to do it. What came to mind was a client that I work with weekly, we start their sessions a quarter past the hour. They are now back to face-to-face sessions. The reason why we've done that is that there was back-to-back stuff. We were waiting around and it didn't feel productive.

I can say that I've made that suggestion, but now I'm more conscious about why that actually works, and it has worked better. It's given them a bit of time from the previous meeting. From my perspective, it means that I have got some time back because I know that we're pretty good at starting at the quarter past the hour. I now need to implement that across the board.

Oscar: For those of you listening right now, if we take Brendan's weekly meeting as a proxy for maybe staff one-on-ones, here’s a wonderful question to ask your staff. With 10 minutes to go in the meeting and you've got the majority of the meeting done, thinking about the last five meetings we've had, how could we both design this to be more productive than they already are?

So you're asking them about how you communicate, not just what you communicate. Too many of us get fixated and stuck on an agenda. Let's all have a giggle. Brendan had this wonderful outline of how the conversation was going to go. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is nowhere near the agenda, Brendan, and 1 is we were right on it, what are we on your agenda compared to today?

Brendan: In this conversation?

Oscar: Yeah. How close is our conversation to the outline you wanted to explore?

Brendan: I would say half and half. But expanding on that, it's been, for me, an unbelievably powerful conversation because it's related to the conversation we're having. We're not forcing anything. Oscar, I need to ask these three or four questions. Can we just stop and get there? I don't mean that. I'm just using it as an example.

Oscar: This is what happens for leaders. We've got a consistent format we want with our one-on-ones or whatever the case may be, but in just being present and listening in the moment, I would have missed completely the conversation at the beginning where we went three rungs down and we got into sustainability.

That happens for leaders. When you listen this way, if you do any kind of quality work, if you're in manufacturing or you create professional services, any kind of consulting, if you're an architect, if you're a lawyer, if you're an engineer, if you're a market researcher, by having the conversations at this level that actually happened quicker, the client co-creates with you. And it's not just something you're doing to them, it's something you're creating together.

The same is true for your employees as well. Now back to Mr. Jolly, Mr. Jolly created this wonderful state for Brendan wanting to do his best work when he turned up in his presence. He wasn't even in his class and yet Mr. Jolly was on his shoulders in all kinds of conversations. I think in us just being present in the conversation today, something emerged that was important, not just for us, Brendan, but for those of us who are listening. If you'll humor me, I'm sure they want to find out the other three villains. But if not, we can pause.

Brendan: I won't mute you.

Oscar: Again, we can check-in. Are you okay to progress?

Brendan: Absolutely, mate. Using the DILS acronym, which is fantastic, so simple to remember. You've already mentioned interrupting without explaining in detail, but let's go to interrupting.

Oscar: Interrupting is very time-orientated. They super value time. It's not that they want to interrupt. They can get there quicker. They think the other person can't say the question fast enough they can anticipate. They're like a quiz show contestant that presses the buzzer before the host has finished the question and they answer the wrong question.

What it does, you may know the answer and you may be correct. That reduces trust in the other person because that other person won't speak up fully ever again because they don't trust you to not interrupt them. That will tell you what you want to hear rather than show up in a way so you can listen to the bigger more significant problems that are there.

If you're the interrupting listening villain from a behavioral point of view, just practice counting in your own head, one 1000, two 1000, three 1000. You will be shocked. When they take a breath in, they are actually collecting their thoughts. They haven't finished saying what they do want to. So when it comes to interrupting, there's an over orientation on the importance of time. What was your secondary, by the way, Brendan?

Brendan: I actually didn't notice a secondary, mate, to be honest.

Oscar: No problem. Secondary, by the way, is usually how you show up at home. Primary is how you show up at work. So we've got D for dramatic, I for interrupting, L for lost. Lost listeners turn up to a conversation. They got invited to the meeting, but they're not sure why they're there. The lost, they’re lost in their phone. The lost, they're lost in their laptops. The lost, they're actually lost in the conversation because they don't understand their role.

If you're lost, trying to arrive a little bit early to the meeting and ask the host this question if you've been invited to a meeting with no agenda, I know that doesn't happen for anybody. We're all perfect. We all send out meetings with agendas. But if you do happen to turn up with a meeting with no agenda, whether it's face to face or virtually, just ask the host this, what's your expectation of me during this meeting?

That will give you a way to zone in to dial in on your listening, and more importantly, that will keep you on track when you do get distracted. By the way, everybody asked me, Brendan, how do I stop being distracted when I'm listening? You won't. A little commercial break from neuroscience, I speak at 125 words a minute, but you can listen at 400.

Some of you have turned up the podcast's speed player to 1.5 times or maybe 2. You can still have complete comprehension when it comes to listening. When it comes to listening, know that you can listen to four times more than what I can say, so you will get distracted. But if you are present, you'll notice that you're distracted quicker.

The difference between good and great listeners isn't that they get distracted. Great listeners get distracted, they just notice it quicker and come back into the conversation. The last listening villain is the shrewd listening villain. The shrewd listening villain is a problem-solving machine, but they are like a little secret spy. You talk to them and they go, yeah, yeah, oh, tell me more about that.

They've got their hand on their chin and they're looking at you straight in the eye. But if you had closed captioning to see what's inside their brain, it would sound like this. Wow, I know how to solve this problem. These three other problems you have that you haven't even thought about, now, I'm going to pretend I'm listening to you, but in the back of my head, I'll wait for you to catch up while I solve your problem.

Unfortunately, as humans, we detect that. In our research, it shows up as they're trying to fix me. I know they're solving the problem. They're not really listening to me, they're jumping ahead. So for the shrewd listening villains out there, please focus not just on what they say, but also focus on how they say it. You just start to listen to how they say it, which is one of the things I noticed with the way Brendan mentioned earlier on is impatience.

It actually came from a different part of his throat compared to the way he was dialoguing with other things. I could hear that we were getting much closer to the piece that mattered for him because the emotion in his voice was very different to his first and second responses. So they're the DILS of listening.

Just go and take the quiz yourself, please. It's free. There's no charge. Go and take the quiz. You'll get a five-page report, and you'll get to practice those things as well. As you can see, Brendan, I could talk for the rest of my life on this topic. I'm curious, what are you thinking right now?

Brendan: What I'm thinking is, you used an analogy before about the game show—hitting the buzzer early around the interrupting listener, the second DILS. Is there a time where these villains are heroes?

Oscar: Interrupting is a classic, classic example of this. Earlier on, we mentioned the cultural disparities with interruption where in South America or in Eastern Europe, interrupting is a sign of a good relationship. A powerful skill for professional interruption in the workplace is just as important as saying nothing. I'll give you an example of that.

If you've ever been in a meeting where somebody says the same thing over and over and over again in their stock, this is when we're going to interrupt and I'm going to show you how to do it skillfully, professionally, and respectfully.

When somebody is in a team meeting or a group meeting, and somebody hijacks the agenda with their own personal problem that they want to solve or they're going down a rabbit hole that's not really productive for the rest of the group, we're going to show you how to interrupt skillfully and professionally. So whenever a meeting doesn't serve its purpose, that is the time to interrupt. But the problem is, most people will interrupt people mid-sentence. Don't do that. So wait for the person to completely finish what they say, then interrupt, and I'll show you how to do that.

Brendan: Can I interrupt?

Oscar: Go ahead.

Brendan: What if they never stopped talking?

Oscar: They will come to an end of the sentence at some point.

Brendan: Fantastic. Please continue.

Oscar: Thank you. Brendan did that skillfully and professionally, waited until I finished and then he interrupted. People don't mind being interrupted when they're stuck. This is back to my point, Brendan. Listening is not therapy in the workplace. You've got a commercial outcome or you've got an output outcome in the public sector, so you want to keep it moving.

You've waited for the end of the sentence and then you want to get that person to a state where they can summarize what they say. Just ask them, if that was a subject line in an email, what would it say? If that was a book title, what would it be? If that was a movie, what would it be? If I saw that on the magazine cover, what would it say? If it was a radio show, what would it be called?

So what you want to do is get them to really consciously get to the essence of what they say. Now, for some clients, they have skillfully said, hey, that's awesome, what color is that? I thought, wow, that's an interesting question to ask. They said, oh, it's orange. What's orange about? But they said it really short.

Orange is about the energy I'm trying to create in this group right now because I feel the group is stuck. Ah. But without that reset to shorten it, give it a color, or make it into a movie, that person will be stuck, and then all of a sudden. Now if those aren't useful for you, you just remember, the purpose of our meeting together is X, Y, Z. Given the time we've got available, should we continue on that or should we come back to X, Y, Z? That's the other way to interrupt.

Please, not mid-sentence, your drive trust down. They’ll never talk to you again, you drive down psychological safety. Wait until they're finished and then offer the invitation. Hey, if that was a subject line in an email, what would it be? Then if it's in a group meeting, you can see the group leaning in and waiting for this person to summarize.

The reason most of us need to interrupt the other person is they don't have a skillful way to say those 900 words that are stuck in their head, so giving them another linguistic technique will help. In that moment too, Brendan, a big thing for leaders is asking questions. You've all been taught to ask questions. Here's something you don't know about asking questions.

Eight words or less? If your question isn't eight words or less, it's linguistically biased, meaning you're making a statement, you're making a presupposition, you're making an assumption about the answer to the question. So please, in that moment, ask yourself, can I make this question shorter?

Brendan: I'm just thinking how I can make this question shorter.

Oscar: This is a different context. You can make it as long as you want. But I would say, is the question from your perspective or the audience?

Brendan: Based on questions I get asked, the audience.

Oscar: Excellent.

Brendan: Is it true that the power of deep listening depends on the quality of the question?

Oscar: Yes and no. I'll tell you when for each. You can have a high quality question with no presence and it will be like trying to plant a seed on concrete because you don't have a relationship. You can be completely present and ask a really unskillful question and it will have the same impact. They're not really listening to me, where did that question come from? That's a bit left field.

So there's a whole hierarchy of questions we need to think about. When I talk to suicide counselors and hostage negotiators, they reinforce this point. Why questions can be asked in very specific contexts. But if you're meeting somebody for the very first time, the question is probably not how to open up a conversation. Think about more how, more what questions to start off. What would make this a great meeting? How many words are there? Less than eight.

That's a really simple way to have a conversation with somebody, and you're not even talking about the content of the meeting, but it's giving them a chance to think about how they're going to communicate. It's a question that creates relationships. That's a powerful phrase I would encourage people to go to at the beginning of the conversation.

What would make this a great meeting? How would you like to allocate our time together today? Then before the meeting ends, we had our time all over again, what would make this more productive for you? Rather than saying, hey, I'm all about feedback, Brendan. Can you give me some feedback on how we went last time? People will get really defensive when you say that. But if you say to them really politely, we had this conversation all over again, how can we make them more productive? For those of you who are on the podcast, Brendan's head is nodding furiously.

Brendan: I can speak to that because you stumped me last time we spoke. The question was, I think I answered the one about Mark. But if the listeners could ask one question, what would that be? I don't know if I've answered that question, but it was really powerful in the makeup of just us having some correspondence around a draft run sheet to give us some guiding light around our conversation. Not to impede it, not to stop us from listening, but just to guide us. It really challenged me. Thank you and I need to remain super conscious of that at all times.

Oscar: Awesome.

Brendan: I don't know if our audience would be asking this question because it really depends, I think, on the level of listening and understanding what we're talking about and maybe referring back to profiling personality tools, let's say DISC. Through your research and experience, have you found that the four listening villains have some alignment with a person's personality profile?

Oscar: I'll preface this by saying that somebody who spent the best part of four years ensuring we had a valid data model for the listening quiz. We haven't correlated that across any of the major models. Though, clients have made the connections really quickly themselves if they understand their models well, meaning they're actually trying to use the strengths in the models rather than just trying to fix their weaknesses as well. So yeah, there will be some correlation, Brendan, and I have not done the work on that.

Brendan: When do people come to you for help?

Oscar: Typically, they fall into three categories. Regulators or some kind of commission of inquiry, not just in Australia but globally. They've had some adverse findings and there's a systemic inability of the executive to listen to complaints, quality feedback, or risk feedback in the system. Number two, a leader joyfully receives feedback from their leader that they're not listening to their team. Number three, the whole organization gets feedback through some kind of employee engagement survey that they aren't listening.

We've provided this feedback last year. I don't know why I'm bothering to put it in again. They work with me to move from hearing, which is the survey, to listening, which is taking action and communicating that action back. There are three distinct categories of clients that approach me and the kinds of problems they are struggling with.

Brendan: Have you ever done any work with children's services as an example—parent, child relationships, those sorts of areas?

Oscar: Yes. I've been deliberate not to. There are experts in those fields. Dr. Justin Coulson is by far the best in Australia and globally as a leader. He's got two doctorates, one in psychology and one in child psychology. But more importantly, Dr. Coulson has six children. They are all girls. He's done a great job.

I have been asked that question regularly. I always get asked three questions. I'm a great listener, but my boss isn't. What do I do? I'm a great listener, but my spouse at home isn't. What do I do? My kids never listen to me. So please, reach out and have a listen to Dr. Justin Coulson. We did an interview with him. 

He talks about how teenage boys and girls listen differently and very specific techniques on how to get boys to listen or to speak up when they're doing routine tasks like gardening, fishing, or driving. But whereas with girls, you need eye-to-eye contact, something a little bit more intimate, a milkshake, preparing a meal together, or something like that. I don't have any expertise there. All the work we're doing is focused on workplace listening, western English-speaking cultures.

Brendan: I think that's probably a big enough space to work on, mate. There's enough work there for a while, I reckon.

Oscar: Yes.

Brendan: I'm going to start to wrap this up a little bit, mate, because we've been going a bit almost an hour and 10 minutes. Can you summarize in 60-90 seconds what makes a great listener?

Oscar: An active listener listens to the words, and a great listener and a deep listener listens to the words that aren't said.

Brendan: Do you want to fill in any more? Well done. No, you don't have to, mate. That was very well put in 25 seconds.

Oscar: My pleasure. Thanks for listening.

Brendan: Absolute pleasure, mate. My final question is, what has had the biggest impact on you in your own leadership journey?

Oscar: The person who listened to me, Tracy. I was in a boardroom in Sydney at a video conference in 2008 between Sydney, Singapore, and Seattle. At the 20-minute mark, Tracy looked me straight in the eyes and she said, Oscar, I need to see you immediately after this meeting. All I could do was think about how much money I had in my bank account and how long could I survive without a job because I'm going to get sacked.

Meeting finished. Tracy asked me to close the door and come and sit next to her. While I was closing the door, she said you don't even know what you did at the 20-minute mark, do you? All I said to myself was, I'm getting fired and I don't know why. She sat me down, she looked me straight in the eyes, and she said, if you could code the way you listen, you could change the world.

The way you listen at the 20-minute mark changed the trajectory of this meeting, and yet, you weren't even aware of it. That's your superpower. All I could say out loud, Brendan, because somebody listened to what I meant at that moment was, Tracy, do you mean code or code-code? Because I was working at Microsoft at the time. 

She said, of course, Oscar, code, as in make it into a software. That's the journey I'm on since then is to code this into software to help 100 million deep listeners in the world find practical, pragmatic ways to listen more effectively in the workplace. So thanks for listening and being one of those 100 million.

Brendan: An absolute pleasure, mate. I've heard that story a few times now from various episodes you've done on different podcasts. It has as much impact hearing it for the fourth time as it did the first. Thank you for sharing again. Can I ask you one last question before we close out? It’s more of a statement, can I ask you to share what I found to be a really impactful story? I'm pretty sure our listeners will find it to be an impactful story about the figure eight. Provide some context around that story and that young gentleman if you could.

Oscar: Okay. So we're going to Minnesota in the United States and to Jennifer, who used to be a school teacher. She was raising all her kids at home and her son came home from school. His name is Christopher. At the age of six, he came home and Jennifer asked Christopher, what did you learn at school today, honey? He said, we learned math. I'm really enjoying it. I learned division, I learned that three is half of eight.

Yet at that moment, Jennifer thought, oh, I didn't hear him properly. Honey, could you just say that again? She invited him in. He said, yeah, we learned three is half of eight. Jennifer, being a primary school teacher, rolled her eyes, put her hands in her face, and thought, what are they teaching these kids at school today?

So she went to the cupboard and got eight M&Ms from the cupboard and lined out eight M&Ms, four in one row and four in another like little soldiers waiting to be looked at by the president or something like that. She picked up Christopher, put him on the table, and said, look, honey, can you count how many in this row? He went 1, 2, 3, 4. She said, great. How many in the other row and he went, 1, 2, 3, 4.

She said, look, you can see four and four, that's half of eight. He leaps off the table and goes mommy, mommy, no, you don't understand. He grabbed a piece of paper. He drew the figure eight on this piece of paper and folded it in half, tore it in half, and showed it to her. There, in front of Jennifer was the figure three.

At that moment, Jennifer realized that her son thought about the world completely differently. Today, Christopher is a bug catcher. When I say bug catcher, he solves the most complex software problems in the world for the organization he works for. Christopher's not neurotypical. Some people would call it on the autism spectrum. But because he thought about the world differently, he realized that the possibility that three is half of eight. By the way, if you fold your eight and half the other way and tear it in half, you can see that zero is half of eight as well. 

So for many of the leaders out there, you've been trained to one way of thinking four is half of eight. You're working with amazing, creative, wonderful employees, suppliers, and customers that are going to come to you, challenge you, and say that three is half of eight, zero is half of eight, and you're going to get frustrated because that's not your worldview. 

But if you listen to what they mean and understand that they're more creative or think about the world in patents as people who are not neurotypical too, you can become a world-class bug catcher with the right kind of encouragement.

So for many leaders out there, please, when somebody comes up to you and says three is half of eight, don't tell them they're wrong. Just ask them to tell you more and then you will discover a world where there are many, many, many more possibilities to solve problems, not just the obvious ones.

Brendan: Are you listening to me? Which one of the DILS are you? Are you a dramatic listener like me who can get stuck in the details wanting to create an emotional connection? Are you the interrupting listener focused on saving time? You often answer the wrong question. Maybe you're the lost listener who gets lost in distractions.

You may even turn up to meetings unsure as to why you're there or are you the shrewd listener who's a problem-solving machine? You're so focused on solving the problem, but you aren't really listening. Remember, each one of the DILS is a label of your listening behavior. The label doesn't define you. You can increase your awareness of your listening villains, aka the DILS, and be deliberate about working to improve it.

Take Oscar’s free listening quiz at www.oscartrimboli.com/listeningquiz to learn about your listening villains. Send me a copy of your report. I'd love to learn what you're committed to doing to become a deep listener. These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Oscar.

My first key takeaway: Leaders build a listening culture. True leaders will spend more time listening than talking. If you lead the way, others will follow. Don't get sucked into the narrative of speech-giving leadership. Build a listening culture by being deliberate about your listening behaviors.

My second key takeaway: Leaders listen to what people don't say. To do this, you must be in the moment. Being in the moment starts with your preparation before the conversation. Take time for some deep breaths or to listen to your favorite tune. When you're in the moment, you will ask great questions that are eight words or less.

Remember, don't expect to be present 100% of the time. None of us are perfect. A great listener will know when they're distracted and bring themselves back. Practice these tips and you'll become far better at listening to what people don't say.

My third key takeaway: Leaders think and act differently. The harsh reality across the world is leadership is broken. If it wasn't for the global employee engagement figures, it would be better. The best leaders won't do what has always been done, they'll think and act differently. Listening seems like a perfect place to start. Think and act differently about listening and you'll contribute to fixing leadership.

In summary, my three key takeaways were: Leaders build a listening culture, leaders listen to what people don't say, and leaders think and act differently.

If you want to talk about culture, leadership, or teamwork, or have any questions or feedback about the episode, you can leave me a comment on the socials or you can leave me a voice message at thecultureofthings.com. Thanks for joining me, and remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation!

Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.