Previously Recorded Talks

Thrive at Work through Active Listening

I’m really excited to talk to you today, specifically about two issues that are often really difficult to wrap our heads around, but that we are always being told that are really important. Diversity, equity, and inclusion and culture.
What we are going to focus on today is: what does it actually take to create the conditions for everyone to thrive at work? With the company that I run; we think that it’s a really specific approach that gets you to results. So, instead of talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion in terms of a set of legal principles or moral philosophies, or policies we talk about DEI like a competency. A skill that you build, like collaboration or communication or innovation. And when you build this competency, you strengthen your competencies in these other areas too. But to do it well we often start too late, we focus on unconscious bias or implicit association or allyship, when we actually need more basic skills to even be able to have those discussions.
So, let me ask you a question: how many people here have been through some kind of unconscious bias training? Raise your hands. Okay, so about half of us.
And how many of us understand or feel like we understand the concept of allyship? Okay, another half here. So, in order to really get to results that are practical, that are actionable we have to start really simple. We have to start with listening because the reality is when we listen, we can understand, we can make changes, we can extract information and knowledge that allows for us to take a more practical approach to solving these problems.
But if we are not listening to each other, it doesn’t matter how much we want to be allies or how much we want to be advocates, or how much we recognize our unconscious bias because we don’t actually know how it impacts the people that we really want to connect with. So, that’s what we are going to focus on today. How we build this core skill of active listening so we can apply it to achieve better DEI outcomes.
The way that we are going to do this today is pretty simple. We are going to spend some time understanding why active listening matters and we are going to understand what that specific technique is because to popular belief is not just listening really hard. It’s an actual technique. And then from there we are going to understand diversity, equity, and inclusion and what those terms mean. We want to make sure we are all talking about the same words all the time so that we’ve got that shared understanding. And then from there we are going to talk about how we can use active listening to achieve those DEI outcomes.
This is an interactive session. I’ll be making you talk to each other, so brace yourselves for that. The other thing I want to emphasize is this is 45 minutes to talk about some really complicated topics. If you are in this room thinking to yourself: how do I get an A+ at this talk? How do I make sure that I win the quiz? I’m not saying that you are like this, but I am, and I’ve been trying to win at all these talks this week. There are only three things you actually need to learn, and they are right here.
So, when you are thinking about what you should take away from today, the first is that as humans we are imitators, okay? So, the biggest thing for us is if we can model good behaviors, other people around us will change. There is actually a practice called engraving and in engraving you watch someone do something well enough times without trying to imitate them and you start imitating them automatically.
So, if you want to improve your tennis backhand you can watch Maria Sharapova videos on YouTube for two weeks in a row and all of a sudden, your backhand will look more like hers. It’s the way our brains are wired. So, if we can really model out these good active listening skills, the people around us will follow.
The second objective we have for today is to really understand that we don’t listen to people who are not like us. It is cognitively difficult. It’s not because we are bad people or because they are not interesting or because we can’t relate to each other. It's because it’s hard. When we have to process information it requires more from us, and we have to process information that’s unfamiliar to us and it creates a guardedness. So, to give you a sense, in the middle of the day between the hours of two and four, when our brains basically just totally shut down, we eat twice as much glucose just to be able to listen to somebody else talk. That’s what our brain needs to keep up the brain power. But, if we have some good skills in place that allow us to be more active in our listening, we can listen to people who are not like us even when we are at lower energy states. And then finally, the last objective for today is that every single person here can be a better listener.
And you can apply that to creating better relationships with people at work, with people in your lives and ultimately drive business outcomes as a result. It leads to really good DEI outcomes, but it also just makes your lives better. One of the things that I talk about a lot when I do my sum-ups or I do my check-ins with my clients is the fact that active listening spreads throughout their lives, and one of the things I hear most often is that because they have active listening techniques in place, they are better husbands and wives and partners because they can really be present for those conversations.
Now, I really believe that active listening is the foundation for diversity, equity and inclusion and the reason that I do is because I have lived this. So, I’m Alida Miranda-Wolff and I run a company called Ethos. We are a company where culture meets DEI, but what matters here is the reason that I started this company is because of the experiences that I had professionally. So, I joined a venture capital firm early on in my career. I had been a consultant and I had been a start-up marketer, very familiar with Inbound, HubSpot user. But I joined this venture firm, and I was the first woman ever hired full-time. I was the only Hispanic person working in venture capital in Chicago, and just one of 27 Latino women working in venture capital in the US, and I was the youngest VC Director by ten years nationally.
And I can tell you my job was to manage my investors, our Fortune 500 partners, our Silicon Valley investors, everything to do with our brand, and then our portfolio company growth. So, I had 45 companies, and it was my job to make sure that they gave us returns. Now, I didn’t look like anybody that I worked with and certainly not like the investors I had to manage. I just didn’t and it was challenging. I can tell you that I was on the receiving end of a lot of “you know how women are” jokes. And I was introduced to a lot of girlfriends because “we are both Hispanic and we have so much in common,” and I was asked how old I was while presenting in a board room on a regular basis. And I thought: “This is really tough. I don’t know that I can make this happen.” And I didn’t really have a lot of contexts for this because I come from a family of Cuban refugees and when I was growing up this was not a path. This was not an option. They say if you can’t see it, you can’t be it, this was very much like that for me.
So, I didn’t have a great understanding of the environment I was going into or what would be expected or required of me. And then I also just had this attitude from my parents. When I was 16 years old, I was watching Millionaire Matchmaker, true story, and one of the millionaires on the show was an entrepreneur and I had never seen that word before. So, I asked my mom what’s an entrepreneur? And she said: “That is what you call yourself when you are unemployed and don’t want to admit it.” And so, I’m now working with all of these entrepreneurs who have given a lot of money and who have to listen to me and don’t know how, and all these investors who don’t know how to listen to our entrepreneurs and aren’t making the right investments in terms of diversifying our portfolio and really making market moves. And I remember going to my managing director and saying: “I don’t feel lucky to be here, and I’m supposed to feel lucky. And we have a very serious problem which is – the companies that we want to invest in don’t want our money”. That’s the paradox of venture capital. You only want to give your money to people who don’t need it. And so, they are going to take your investment because they want other things from you. And they did not want our investors who did not understand them, who did not know how to listen to them. And I went to the Northwestern University campus, and I pulled together a team of data scientists to show what our reputation score was in this market, and it wasn’t great, and he said: “Alright, fine. I don’t understand what you are going through personally, and I don’t understand what our entrepreneurs are going through, but I believe you. I’m going to listen to your perspective and if you can fix it, you can do it”.
And so, my first two years at this venture firm my nickname, true story, was the Angel of Death because I fired sixty of my own investors and I know what it’s like to be 22 years old and sit across from a billionaire and tell him that he is not good enough for you. And I know what his reaction is, which is not as gracious as you might imagine. And I know what it’s like to take the rest of those people and teach them how to listen, how to empathize, how to understand, how to develop cultural competency so that they can invest differently and make better moves. And I know what it’s like to bring more people into an organization to add to that diversity. So, long story short, by the end of my three and a half years of really launching this initiative we had increased diversity in our investor base by 25%, we had gone from 3% female [unintelligible word 00:09:40] which is the national average to 20%. Similar numbers for people of color in the top three performing companies in our portfolio were led by women or people of color. And finally, and perhaps most importantly we had become the most active [investor ? 00:09:52] in the Midwest in our region. We did more deals and saw better returns. All with the only changes we made being DEI.
But the thing is, this was only possible because of three different listening conversations that happened. My managing director listened to me, my investors were willing to listen to our entrepreneurs and really understand them, and our entrepreneurs were willing to listen to the broader community, so they could engage with markets that maybe they hadn’t seen before or hadn’t interacted with before. So, this is why I say I know listening to matters. Because it’s where all change starts from and it’s what makes sure that we solve the right problems, because we find the right problems and then we build the right solutions.
With that in mind, I want to emphasize how important it is that we get into a listening state of mind, so I want to take time to arrive here. I know some of you have been answering emails, or walking around the conference center, or talking to a combative colleague. And I want to make sure we take a moment to get present. So, I’m going to ask that everybody just briefly closes your eyes.
I want you to close your eyes and I want you to take three deep breaths. Follow your breath from the top of your inhale to the bottom of your exhale. And again, from the top of your inhale to the bottom of your exhale. Take that last breath and when you release it, check in with yourself. How is your energy level?
What’s your mood? What’s on your mind right now? Take a moment to notice whatever thought is swirling in your mind and take a deep breath with it and release it. And now I want you to visualize the best listener you know. Who is the best listener you know? See that person’s face. And now that you see that person’s face, think about how do they listen? What do they do that makes them the best listener you know?
Finally, take a moment to reflect on how do they make you feel when they listen. What feelings come up for you?
When you are ready, you can take a final deep breath and slowly open your eyes and I want you to turn to the person next to you, whether they are to your right or left, behind or in front of you and just for the next minute or two I want you to talk about the best listener you know and what they do. So, it should get really loud really fast. Go!
Alright! So, finishing up those last thoughts. So, we were just practicing the first stage of listening. For one, I want to ask you a question: how many people here talked to someone they didn’t know? Raise your hands.
Good! That’s what I like to see! So, that’s one of the keys here. We are trying to learn how to listen to people we don’t know that we are not familiar with who are going to say and do unexpected things, and that’s key.
The other point that I want to emphasize is that you are practicing connecting with someone on a vulnerable level because you are talking about someone that matters to you and you are sharing reciprocally. So, this is key for understanding the power of active listening. And I’m sure that in your conversations a few themes came up. But I know from having done this workshop a number of times that really good listeners end up doing one key thing and that’s that they allow for people to tell stories in their own way, react freely and naturally, and do this all so they can express themselves fully. And one of the main reasons is because good listeners don’t interrupt. They create that space for conversation.
This research comes from Pauline Young who found this in 1929, when she was studying what it took to get people to open up in social science interviews. And it was key to getting better research, it was key to getting better data so that they could understand social phenomena. But this is what makes somebody a good listener. And when we have this opportunity, when we have this space to be ourselves, to express ourselves freely what happens is that all of a sudden mutual understanding increase. We also get to this place of sharing more knowledge, sharing more information. We get the full context. We learn to create what’s called “a no penalty environment”. Raise your hands if you know what a no penalty environment is. Okay, a few of us.
So, a no penalty environment for those of us who are hearing it for the first time is an environment where you can volunteer any idea without fear of consequence or retribution. And we know that no penalty environments are where innovation comes from. If you are not afraid of sounding silly or stupid or being shut down, you are more likely to really brainstorm and come up with new ideas.
When we are listening to each other well, we make each other feel seen, we create a sense of belonging, we build trust. Did anybody here go to Rachel Botsman’s talk on trust? Anybody in the room? Okay, a few of us. I thought it was an excellent talk and I am very interested in trust theory. One of the things that she talked about is that trust cannot be built. Trust has to be earned because trust is all about somebody giving you, their trust. When we listen, we are open to receiving. It allows for us to accept that gift. It creates trust or it allows for us to earn trust because we can see each other and we can see each other reliably, consistently and with empathy. And then finally when we are really actively listening, we are opening our perspectives and we are collaborating better. And this is the reason that businesses care about this. Because that’s how we get to productivities, how we get to performance.
Now, all of this ties into a key element which is culture. And we talk about company culture all the time in every company constantly and when I was a marketer, we were doing it too. So, raise your hand if you feel that you have a very clear understanding of what culture is. Okay, maybe about a third of us.
If you are not in that group that’s okay because culture has four competing definitions and can be very confusing, right?
Culture is a group’s particular way of life. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about American culture or company culture. Culture is a mode of individual enrichment so if you are well read you might be cultured, right?
You go to the theater or film festival; you might be getting some culture. I don’t know if you would say it like that, but you could. It wouldn’t be incorrect. And then if you are my husband when you think about culture, you think about bacterial cultures because he works in a lab, right? Maintaining the conditions suitable for growth. The challenge here when we talk about culture is that all of these ideas compete with each other sometimes. Right?
A group’s particular way of life may reject an activity. Isn’t that the whole point of Footloose? Right? Culture rejecting culture? Right? And then a culture might say individual growth does not matter. Group interests do. So, individual enrichment is not permitted or accepted. A culture might say that growth is not the goal but maintenance or in fact, keeping things smaller, downsizing or downgrading. But what I’m interested in and what we are interested in today is what healthy culture is. And healthy culture in a group is very simple. It is a group of people coming together to define a good way of life. And then translating that idea of a good way of life into habits and activities and institutions so that individuals can flourish, and the group can too.
Now, when we talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion we talk about healthy culture, we understand why the two are inextricably linked, because if only some people can discover that good way of life together, it doesn’t represent the group. And if only some people can participate in those habits, activities, and institutions then we are not honoring that outcome and then certainly if only some individuals flourish well, we are not in a healthy culture state. Right? This is an absolute. What diversity, equity and inclusion says is that what we are looking for is to create an invitation for people to come in, give them equal access so they can participate on the same plane field, and then really have the opportunity to connect.
But when we think about invitation and equal access and connection, we need to be able to listen to people in order to create those things. So, let’s talk about our terms so we get on the same page. When we talk about diversity, we usually think we are talking about race and gender, but that’s not what we are talking about.
We are talking about variety. That’s what diversity is. Diversity is variety. We can think about diversity in terms of biodiversity. So, if we think about biodiversity, that’s a lot of different kinds of organisms in one ecosystem. And biodiversity is important. Is anybody here obsessed with trees like I am by any chance? Oh, I’m really glad to hear that! There are some really good radiolab podcasts for you to listen to.
But I love trees. I have actually gone on an expedition to go find a honey locust tree. That’s the level of tree nerd that I am, and I like to think about this one example: in Central Europe because of industrialization, basically all of the forests are new. Because they were all felled to produce lumber. And when those forests were replanted, they planted beech trees, because beech trees grow really tall really fast, and they make good quality wood. However, when a beech specific virus hits the forest, well, the whole forest dies. If you plant though spruces and firs and birches, the beech trees die. The forest lives but the seeds that were left from the original beech trees grow into new beech trees.
When we think about diversity what it allows for is both the mitigation of risk and the opportunity for growth, and that’s key. Right? So, when we think about diversity we were thinking about composition, just who is in the room? And that can mean variability or variety in any number of ways, not just social identity.
When we think about inclusion though, it’s not what or who is in the room, but how they feel. Inclusion is how we feel relative to being welcomed, valued, and fully leveraged for who we are. So, we can feel included in our companies but not on our teams, or on our teams and not in our companies or in our industries and not in our companies, or in our companies and not in our industries, right?
It changes, it’s in flux. I used to work in industrial supplies when I first started my technology consulting career and I never thought about being a woman when I was on my team or in my company. I never thought about inclusion or exclusion. But when I would go to trade shows and there would be women in gold lamé costumes dancing to sell power drills, I mean, honestly, I was just confused. But I also started to feel that maybe I wasn’t included there, right?
And so, that’s an example where you can feel inclusion to varying degrees in different places. So, like diversity inclusion is an outcome, right? Because it can have an end point. But it’s a different kind, right? It’s a feeling state. Diversity and inclusion can be defined in relation to each other but clearly differentiated with one analogy, which is diversity is being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. So, let me ask you this: how many people have been to a party that really sucked? Yeah! Most of us have. So, what did you do when you were at this bad party? Left? Anything else? Ate a lot of food. Okay.
So, you might leave, you might eat a lot of food. One of the CEOs who went through this with me said – drank too much. So, [Laugh] you know make that decision, not stay, hang by the wall. Same thing is true. You can bring diversity into a company or into a culture, or into your market or into your product, but if you don’t take the time to include then what you get is a lot of people who are leaving, underperforming, or unhappy. Right?
That’s how we can understand them together. Now, you might have noticed that I don’t say diversity and inclusion, but I say diversity, equity, and inclusion. There is a reason for this. Because I don’t actually think that you can get from diversity to inclusion without a concept called equity. Just so that I have a sense of the room, raise your hands if you’ve heard this term before - equity.
Good! I’m glad to hear it. When I think about equity, equity is really the relationship between power and fairness. And I want to take a moment here to define power because power is very neutral. We don’t talk about it neutrally, but power is neutral. Power is just what happens when two or more people come together. Because power is being able to do what you want to do or having someone else do what you want them to do.
What equity says and understands is that power is not equally distributed. So, as a result some people have more advantages, and more people have disadvantages based on structures or systems that are outside of their control. And what equity aims to do is create more balance in that power structure. The best way I can describe this is if we want to say: “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Equity says: “Okay, but make sure everybody has boots.” Let’s give everybody boots and then they can pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
Sometimes equity can be hard for people to understand, so I like to use an example from my own life to illustrate it. When I was in college, I got hit by a car crossing the street. So, I ran across the street, I flipped over the car twice, shattered my whole right side, have a bionic arm here. They still teach my x-rays at Northwestern. It was [that (?) 00:25:54] accident. And I heard from everyone that I needed to take a leave of absence. And one of the biggest challenges for me is I’m from Chicago. Winters are real in Chicago, and it was the dead of winter. I lived off campus, and I couldn’t walk, and I couldn’t move my right side. How was I going to get to school? Well, I went to the University of Chicago, and they have a program which is that if you have a disability and you live off campus, it doesn’t matter who you are, what year you are, what your standing is, whether you have a scholarship or not, it doesn’t matter, you will get a free shuttle to the university. They don’t tell your professors to help you out or give you extra time on tests or give you better grades. They don’t give you preference in selecting your courses. They just make sure that you can get to school just like everybody else. And it’s not personal, but it allows for personal growth and gain. That’s an equity practice.
Now, if we want to get there to this place where we can really operationalize equal access, we have to establish stakes because the reality is that we know that we can make changes when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But it’s through equity. Equity is how we make changes in companies and equity doesn’t feel very interesting. And it’s really easy to put it at the bottom of the list because it's systematic and process based. So, we have to feel like we have stakes. We have to feel like there is someone we care about who can’t get to school before we put that program in place. And that’s where becoming better listeners is key.
So, that’s where we get to talk about active listening. Active listening is a technique that was developed in 1957 by Carl Rogers and Richard Farson and the whole goal was how do we collaborate better. There were other listening techniques that existed at this time, and they were much more counseling specific. But they weren’t about getting to business outcomes. So, what they decided was to build this framework that was made up of three parts: the first was listening for total meaning. So, that’s content and context, not just what you are saying but how you are saying it. Your tone, your energy, your body language. Then, responding and this is something that’s really important because when we think about active listening, we think that we are mirroring, and we are not mirroring. We are keeping on to our own perspective and judgement, but we are definitely more focused on learning what the other person has to say than what our perspective is.
So, when we paraphrase in a responding situation, we know what has been said and the mood in which it has been said and we continue sharing with open body language. And then finally, there is something called “noting all cues” and this is making sure that you are keeping track of all of the verbal and non-verbal cues throughout the session. Key here for noting all cues it’s different from listening for total meaning because this is the average that you take of a conversation. In that first step it’s moment by moment that you are paying attention. In that final step it’s how did we come out of that conversation together.
So, we can think about it this way, good listeners create mental space. They allow for themselves to leave their own perspectives enough to concentrate on what the narrator has to say. They are not going through an internal monologue with themselves. If we were to compare active listening to our other listening styles, most of us are passive listeners all the time. That’s because like I said, listening is cognitively difficult. It’s super tiring and there is a reason why the Buddhists actually characterize listening as scary, right? The Buddhists say that there are five core fears: death, pain, humiliation, but they also say unknown states of mind. Listening is hard because it opens us up to information we can’t control.
So, when we are passively listening, we are only focusing on the words being said, we are listening to hear, we usually have listening faces on. I know what those look like because I’m looking at yours right now, right? And it’s just focused on what information is.
When you are reflectively listening, again, this is what’s really happening in more of a counseling or supportive setting. You are mirroring the speaker’s body language; you are parodying back or mirroring back what they have said. You are allowing them to go on tangents, you are agreeing with them to create psychological safety.
When you are actively listening, you are not doing either of those things. So, when you are actively listening you are observing those non-verbal cues to understand total meaning, you are signaling your understanding through your own non-verbal cues, you are paraphrasing, you are understanding the speaker’s perspective while keeping your own, and then finally and this is really important, you are recognizing shifts, gaps, contradictions in the speaker’s telling and you are pointing them out and you are pointing them out through questions. This is what makes it collaborative. And you can volunteer your own perspective.
So, this seems pretty straightforward but active listening is hard. Why is active listening hard? Because a few things get in the way. The first thing that gets in the way is socialization. So here it’s something that’s really interesting. The University of California Santa Barbara looked at social conversations between men and men, men and women, and women and women and this is what they found. In 60 minutes over coffee men interrupted each other 7 times each. Men interrupted women 46 times; women interrupted twice. If those numbers, feel really big to you we can look at a more conservative study that came out of George Washington which looked at workplace conversations of about three minutes in length. In the workplace we tend to adhere to more social norms, better etiquette. But here men were still interrupting women 33% more than they were interrupting other men, about two times in three minutes. Why is this happening?
Because men are the worst. No. It’s not, it’s not. It’s actually socialization. It’s how we are brought up. Girls are punished for interrupting when they are growing up and boys aren’t. That’s what the research shows us. Boys don’t get punished for interrupting, but they do get rewarded for being assertive, for sharing their opinion, for being vocal, for taking the lead in a conversation. And girls don’t get rewarded for this. In fact, they are told to be more respectful or polite or deferential. Plus, that modeling idea comes up. When boys see men interrupting, they imitate the behavior. When girls see women not interrupting, they imitate the behavior. So, this can make listening hard because we are socialized this way.
And then it becomes even more complicated when we think about the gender spectrum and where differences are there. An example I like to give is Barbara Barres became Ben Barres, very famous biologist out of Stanford. And what Ben Barres said in a very important paper for nature is that after the transition to becoming a trans man interruptions just stopped. And all of a sudden people thought Ben was a whole lot smarter. There is a real case where one of Ben’s colleagues said: “I knew your sister Barbara. You are a lot smarter than her.” Same person, but it’s a lot easier when we have these social constructs. When we have these beliefs about what people are and aren’t to make these kinds of assumptions. So, that gets in the way of listening. But then we can talk about things that aren’t so DEI-related, like shift response. Anybody here ever been having a conversation that you thought it was about you and then all of a sudden, it's about another person? The person you are talking to, right? Yeah!
It’s like every conversation I have with one of my friends. I thought we were talking about my problem, not your book deal. But, great! You know?
That’s shift response. Shift response is when you shift a conversation back to yourself, when the attention comes back to you. We really want to aim for support response. That’s our goal and that’s when we are supporting other people’s comments and conversations so they can continue making those comments.
So, what does that look like? So, let’s say we have two people talking to each other. Shift responses: “I’m so overwhelmed,” “I feel like I’m never going to get a handle on what this customer wants”. What the shift response looks like is: “tell me about it! I’m drowning in e-mails. Can you believe what I’m going through?” Right?
Support response though is: “No, tell me about it. Why is it so overwhelming?” That’s the difference there. The next thing that gets in the way of listening is distraction. How many people here and raise your hands, how many people here have been telling someone something really important and they were glued to their phone? Okay, and keep your hands up if you were that person. [Laugh] Right.
So, distraction gets in the way of listening because we are bad multitaskers. It’s really difficult for us to do multiple things at one time. Distraction can be on your devices; it can be because you are in a bad emotional state, or you’ve got a long to-do list, or the space is noisy. But distraction gets in the way of listening. So, what can we do? Eliminate distraction. You are talking to this overwhelmed person if you are distracted you say: “That sucks” and keep scrolling on your phone. But if you are engaged you put that phone away and you make eye contact and you ask them what’s going on.
One thing I like to do, one trick that I find really useful is when I’m feeling overloaded in a conversation what I will do is I will say: “I want to take a moment to just be fully present for what you have to share. Do you mind if I take a pause?” And it’s kind of this weird situation for people because they haven’t experienced it before. But then I get to reset, I’ve just created an accountability partner because I just interrupted our meeting to say that I need to get present, so I better be present. And I’ve noticed how many people imitate me now when I do that. Because it allows for you to reset.
Last one here is missing verbal and non-verbal cues. We don’t always understand what the other person is saying, like literally don’t understand what they are saying. So, that can create some real listening challenges. The best example I have of this is: I was on a panel, and it was an international panel. It was about bridging the gap between China and the US and one of the panelists was an artist from China and she said: “Early in my life, before I was five years-old I discovered the horrors of morality, and that has scarred me so deeply that I’ve never recovered.” And then we continued the conversation there and I’m thinking: this is a really dramatic statement. Morality has ruined your life in all these ways, and you discovered this at the age of four. And then about halfway through the conversation I realized she meant mortality, fear of death, and I was thinking: “Wow, these questions I’ve been asking must be confusing to her too! Like we are not on the same page. This is where you use a clarifying question. So, how are you feeling about this right now? Am I missing something? Did I get that right? Those are all key questions.
So, when we think about what we can do it’s five things. You walk away with some actionable steps – five things. When you are trying to actively listen always make sure that you are in a posture of receiving, open body language. Nod, lean forward, uncross your arms if you are seated next to someone turn your chair around. I’m a big fan of the compassionate blink. People don’t know what that is but if you want to you can see me after this and I can show you. Allow long pauses for processing time. I interrupt people all the time. I do. And it’s because I’m an extremely fast talker. I am slowing it down so much for you right now it is physically painful for me. So, I interrupt people. My learning designer says to me on a regular basis: “When you are asking the audience questions, just count to five.” That will help you hear too. When paraphrasing do end your statements with clarifying questions because sometimes, they can come off as value judgements, right? Because you are not suspending your perspective. It might seem like you are telling somebody based on how you are perceiving their mood that they are feeling insecure because they were bad at something. And all of a sudden, they think you are making a statement about them. So, instead end with that question – did I understand that correctly? Am I getting this right?
Put away your phone, put away your phone, put away your phone. And then finally, ask open questions. So, there are open questions and closed questions. Closed questions are yes, no responses. Open questions have infinite number of responses, your - what, why and how – are going to have more open responses than your – who, when, and where. Last you will hear – staying above the line. Has anybody seen this diagram before? Okay. I’m really excited then. This is my favorite tool. I used this in 34 companies today. I work with 34 tech companies across the US. We do all kinds of different consulting and learning and development work. This is the only tool I use with every single one of them.
So, imagine there is a line and if you are above the line, you are coming from a place of love. You are committed to learning, you are open, you are curious.
If you are below the line, you are coming from a place of fear. You are defensive or defended. You are closed, you are committed to being right. Here is the deal, because we are human we go up and down above and below the line several times throughout a conversation. The key is to notice so that we can get back above the line.
I can show you what this looks like. So, I was in a conversation with one of my favorite people that I work with, period. But he can say some things that can be taken with offense, and I took offense, and I ended up making a really edgy comment, which is not like me. I’m very diplomatic and also very good at concealing my feelings when I have to do client service. It’s a skill that’s necessary for this kind of work. But I said something along the lines of: “Well, you only care about half of the things I’m doing anyways, so I don’t know what the point is”. [Laugh] Even when I heard it, I was like: what is up Alida? And so, I went through my own model. First thing I did, I asked: “Am I above the line or below the line?” I was below the line.
So, when you are below the line just ask yourself 3 questions, it takes like 5 seconds in your head. The first: What is being threatened here? For me it was that the work I was doing, the work that I was doing was not valuable. Okay?
What’s the next question? What do I think this conversation says about me? Well, that I’m not valuable. How has my top priority shifted to preserving my ego?
Obviously, I just said I’m worried that I’m not valuable. So, now that I have this clarity and this distance and this cognitive remove, what I can do is go ahead and tell this person: “Hey, I think I’m below the line right now!” Because he knows this framework too. And here is why and I want to get on the same page. “Can you clarify the comment that you made?” And all of a sudden, the comment is clarified. Nothing against me. Right? It’s very valuable. It helps gets back into a listening situation.
I use this in all my tough DEI conversations. When I have somebody feeling like they are being tone-policed or like they are being shut down or like they are having issues with political correctness I always go back to this framework because it is personal. So, in the last one minute of this session I want to do a final reflection. So, I want everybody here to think about how you can apply the tools that we learned today to be more inclusive of others, right?
If we said that our goal here is to use active listening to develop deeper connections with people who are not like us, to create greater understanding, what are we going to do to make that happen?
Just take a moment, write it down, think it through but you can apply some of these tools, you can use that cheat sheet, you can choose to talk to somebody that you normally don’t, you can choose to engage in an opinion that you don’t normally want to hear. But just choose one.
It’s shocking and amazing how quickly you can build relationships and make progress, and the key here is that once you do this all of a sudden you start to discover what changes you could make to create the conditions for everyone to thrive. So, as a reminder here, remember we are all imitators. If you model this behavior other people will follow.
Listening to other people who are not like us is difficult, so make sure you are putting your active listening hat on whenever you are in that kind of conversation. And then know that every single person here can become a better listener. Even if you already feel like you are a good listener, maybe in your visualization the best listener you know is you. I mean, I’m sure that’s happened before. But you can get better, and you can use that to drive change.
So, with that I thank you very much for being here. I’ll be out in the hallway to answer questions, but I really appreciate it.
[End of recording] [00:43:05]