The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.Peter Drucker
When she walked into my office, she was clearly nervous. We had worked together for six months. In the next five minutes, she shared a very personal medical condition, how the treatment would take her out of work, and her concerns about her job and her health. There were tears.
I heard the words – and knew the next step was to leverage the policies we had in place to help all of our people get the same level of support and organizational compassion.
Somewhere in those five minutes, I heard some other unspoken messages:
- I want to be a mom more than anything
- I am scared
- I love this job
- I trust you to help me Scott, that is why I am sharing this
Within the unspoken words is the space where empathy happens, where we get to really understand what matters to people, and where the passions and fears exist that help us truly know someone.
The next time you have a conversation, listen for the unspoken messages. What do you notice? This is the real practice of honest listening, and it takes putting them first.
I was listening to a speaker recently who shared some startling statistics on our brain activity:
- We all have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day
- 95 – 98% are the same we had the day before
So I tried an experiment: at the end of every day, I wrote down the thoughts that seemed to be clogging up my brain during that day. The kind of thoughts that I kept thinking about, but did nothing about. As an EOS® implementer, I have been taught by Gino Wickman to call this stuff head trash.
Funny thing happened – after writing down the head trash each evening, I slept better, and after a few days those thoughts became a lot less prominent in my daily 70,000.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.Stephen R. Covey
I heard this quote a couple of weeks ago and for the first time I understood. I have carried it around as a lens for myself for the last few weeks and it has changed several conversations for me – for the better.
Try an experiment ~ write it on a post-it, on the top of some meeting agendas, or any other way to remind you of it as you interact with others. Let me know what you notice: email@example.com
Recently I took advantage of a culture tour of Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor. While I have been on the tour seven times over the past seven years, I always leave with a key lesson or two that I can practice in my own work. This time the word radical hit me as I thought about their commitment to transparency.
Menlo’s business is software development, and they are recognized as a leader in workplace culture. If you want to know more, Rich Sheridan has just published a second book to give you a glimpse into their culture, Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear.
Here are three ways Menlo makes their goal of transparency part of their daily work:
- A project manager shared why/how projects that get behind are discussed – “If a project is going to get behind, I expect them to tell me right away. Our practiced response is to smile and ask one question: What do I know now that I did not know earlier? I cannot help fix it if I don’t have visibility to the issue.”
- They work really hard to avoid hallway project management which is the side conversations where decisions get made after the meeting. Avoiding this is a cultural norm.
- Pay levels are posted on the wall, so everyone knows who is classified where and salary is transparent.
I am always amazed when companies open the book on pay and levels, creating transparency in an area that many people find very hard to openly share. This is radical transparency, and it is a commitment to honesty that I have to believe sets a standard that makes people think “If we are open with that, then it should be safe to share ______________ (fill in the blank).” It also makes me ask the question of myself, “How can I practice radical transparency?”
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!