Apple Award Winning Podcast
Avraham (Avi) Kluger is a professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the first born of parents who both survived the Holocaust. His award-winning research into the role of feedback in the workplace piqued his interest in the world of listening. In his journey of discovering listening, Avi underwent a dramatic personal change – realising that being properly listened to gives you the space to become your authentic self.
Avi is currently conducting a meta-analysis that examines over 900 previously observed effects of listening. He is distilling the existing body of research, which often focussed on narrow, disparate fields, to uncover the big picture of the impact of listening.
You don’t need to be a psychologist to improve the wellbeing of people around you. Avi explains that good listeners help the mental health of speakers – reducing depression and anxiety and increasing a sense of meaning in life.
Listening can, in fact, change somebody’s opinion. If you are being well listened to, you will engage with both or more sides of an argument. Whereas if you are being poorly listened to, you will likely double down on one point of view. Avi shares a story of a student who cheated attendance to his classes. Good listening made him realise his own fault in the situation.
Avi also explains that the culture in Israel can be very argumentative and not respectful of listening, demonstrated by a high rate of interruption. This also means, however, that the core of what a person is saying is interrogated, rather than attacking the person themselves.
Before entering the conversation, make the decision to be invested in the other person. Avi says that good listening flows from this single intention.
Tune in to Learn
- Why if you want to really listen, you need to be willing to change
- About the ratio of talking to listening across languages
- The difference between a nice voice and the true voice
- Why good listeners are better performers in education and at work
- Try to name the emotion of the speaker to break a repetitive conversation
Deep Listening with Avraham Kluger
So he’s coming into my office with one major idea, that he’s right and nobody sees what’s wrong around, and just by listening he recognised that something is wrong with him. This is very hard to own these type of thoughts, and a good listener can do that.
Hi, I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the Deep Listening podcast series, designed to move you from an unconscious listener to a deep and productive listener. Did you know you spend 55 percent of your day listening, yet only two percent of us have had any listening training whatsoever. Frustration, misunderstanding, wasted time and opportunity, along with creating poll relationships are just some of the costs of not listening. Each episode of the series is designed to provide you with practical, actionable, and impactful tips to move you through the five levels of listening. So I invite you to visit OscarTrimboli.com forward slash Facebook to learn about the five levels of listening and how others are making an impact beyond words.
I’m sure has a Yoda in their life. Someone who’s wise, someone who can say something really important in just a few words, and those words will stay with you for the rest of your life. For me, one of my Yodas is Avi, a professor of listening in all senses of the word. In this episode Avi explorers with me the obstacles to listening and in the words of the great grandfather of the listening movement, Carl Rogers, Avi explains that if you really, really want to listen, you need to be willing to change.
In this episode Avi spends time exploring how the listener shapes the quality of the speaker’s thinking, and more importantly, backs it up with the science to prove it. Listen to the story of the manager who thinks they’re an amazing people person and yet in Avi’s words, they’re completely clueless to one of the difficulties for one of their staff members once they learned how to listen without judgement .
Avi explains the power of stories and when you listen to disagree, your listening moves forward dramatically. Listen out for the story where he takes us into the room to an MBA class, and listen how the room fights about concept of listening and what Avi does to help the room become conscious of what they’re doing. As we kick off, we’re going to ask Avi, what was it like around the dinner table. And as a bit of context, he’s the son of Holocaust survivors, so food matters enormously. And then we quickly talk about the IDF or the Israeli Defence Force and how that helped influence some of his thinking around listening, particularly when he gets access to a Hebrew translation of William Shakespeare’s work. Let’s listen to Avi.
Okay. This is a painful question for me. Dinner time or any mealtime was a war zone for me. I think … Well first I’ll tell what it was like for me. I was a bad eater. I was very thin. I was worried my parents that I’m not thriving, although I grew my at my rate and I had no physiological problems whatsoever. But they being Holocaust survivors, they were concerned and they were trying to shove food into me and I hated cooking in my family, especially of all meat products, and I just have memories of being forced to sit for hours if I don’t finish the food on my plate. And basically every meal was a struggle.
So your question, who was the best listener around the dinner table is like a … It’s a presupposition that there was any good listening there. But my recollection is that most of the time there was nothing related to listening happening at the dinner table and elsewhere.
I’m curious if you spent time in the IDF and what you learned about listening then.
I felt as an oddball and not being understood by most of the people around me. I have vague memory. Well I became a sergeant and there was another sergeant in my unit that was into literature and poetry and I had some rapport with him, but not really … It’s like sharing information that we both found interesting, but I won’t say listening. And then I had a brother of friend from my cohort who was several years older than I, and he was already released from the army, and during vacations for some reason my friend introduced me to his older brother and we conversed about literature. And he was at type of a listening person for me. I remember very clearly him sending me a letter to the army in which he cited a Hebrew translation of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and it touched my heart.
So there was somebody who’s seeing me. Unfortunately, that person committed suicide maybe a couple of years after he sent me this letter. So he was also a very sensitive person whom didn’t have the stamina to work out things and chose suicide.
As you’re reflecting on the question I asked you, you took in a very deep breath. You had a very significant pause.
Both emotions, but I’m looking now reflecting cognitively on this experience. It’s just a reaffirmation for the story I’m telling myself, or as I remember myself as a young, young boy all the way to being middle aged. I was not a good listener and in that I contributed to having very little people listening to me. And I was surrounded by an environment that, regardless of my own contribution, didn’t have the skill and was rather argumentative. Just remembering even the type of friendships, male friendships that I developed in my twenties that they were all based on let’s see who is wiser here, and cracking jokes at the expense of each other in a way that was painful. But this was the thing I knew about friendship and connection.
So your question is just, in additions for being painful to look at, are interesting in the sense that they helped me get even a clearer picture about the way I was embedded in my immediate social network, both family, friends, in short listing deprived environments.
How would you rate Israel as a nation of people with regard to their listening?
I did an interesting type of search by key punching to search google to look at the frequency of words in books and the other one is trends, to look into what people are searching when they search the internet. And I keep on [inaudible 00:09:05] to them the words talking and listening in many languages. And I look at the ratio of the two. And what you find, for example in English books is that talking is twice as likely to be printed than listening. And also about searching this word. And other languages are similar to English.
But some languages such as a German and Hebrew, the ratio could be 10 for talking to one of listening. I think that the culture in Israel is very, very argumentative. In a way it has positive aspects that it makes you resilient and learning to listen to the core of the argument rather than the personal attack underneath it.
The other side of it is that if I, for example, observe the television here versus in other countries, or the radio a talk shows, the rate of interruptions is amazing. And we have joke say in academia about people coming to give a talk. They just present the title and somebody in the audience start to say, “Well, I don’t understand why you gave this title to your talk.” And it starts an argument. And before you know it, allotted time for talk is over without the presenter ever being given the chance to present even the introduction.
So I think it’s just a gross generalisation. Of course there are amazing listeners in Israel. But I think the culture by and large is not respectful of listening.
I’m curious when your work in academe commenced around listening?
14 years ago I was introduced to appreciative inquiry, and in this introduction I was listened to with the question, “Could you please tell me a story about an event at work during which you felt full of life.” And I did tell a story, and I was startled because I realised how long ago it was that I felt full of life at work and how busy I was at the current work then in proving how smart I am while pursuing things that intrinsically I didn’t care for. And I was really killing myself.
That event started a cascade or a process for me of reviewing my life, realising how much sadness I had in me, and searching for different way of life. Up to this point, I was working on the destructive effects of feedback on performance, and through this process that began 14 years ago, I realised that I was pursuing for 20 years of my career a search for the conditions under which feedback is destructive. And it was just telling the world, look, I’ve been a child in a house of Holocaust survivors and I received a lot of feedback. I can tell you that it could be extremely debilitating.
And then they collected data that showed that it was not only my impression, but that almost 40 percent of the experiments carried out on the 20th century on feedback effectiveness showed that following feedback performance goes down, even if the feedback was positive.
But then I realised that I was working on showing the world of the academia your recommendation for managers, for educators, for whoever, just keep feedback is unfounded. It’s much more complex than you claim. And in many cases it could have real harm. But then I realised that I was working on finding what doesn’t work, what hurts. And I was not satisfied with it. At the same time, I allowed myself to start to go through personal growth activities and apart from learning about appreciative inquiry and inventing my own extensions of some of their tools, I participated in one year of storytelling classes where people listened to me. I participated in one year of psychodrama where people listened to me. And then I took voice classes.
That was really meaningful for me to find my physical true voice. And my physical voice change. I have to tell a short story about it. I went to this harsh old lady, immigrant from Estonia to learn voice classes for the first time in my life at age 48. And she tells me these things, “Well, you use your false voice and I want to tell you something. There are two type of apple trees in the world. One of them will give little sour green apples, and another one of them can give big sweet red apples. Now, I’m sorry to tell you, you have the trunk or the roots of a tree that is sour and green. You will never have a nice voice. But, if you will pretend to produce red apples, you will give nothing. Only if you’re trying to be true to your voice, then you’ll be able to convince people with what you’re saying.
And let me tell you that there are some people with amazing voices that come to my studio and when you hear them the first two minutes are mesmerised. But later on you get tired and bored because they have a nice voice but they don’t tell the truth.”
And then she gave me a name of another Israeli singer and she said, “Well, he has bad voice, but when he seems everybody is attuned, not because he has a nice voice, because he tell the truth. So your ear is going after his voice.” So these were the processes that I went through, and the change was so deep. My wife would say that it is as if I went through a religious conversion. Former student of mine said, “What happened to you? I tell you, I swore when I met you first that I’ll never have anything to do with you. It was impossible to be in the presence of your arrogance.
I had to take your class because of my schedule and they came in and was surprised you so changed. What happened?” I ask myself the same question. How could it be that the person in during late middle age go through such a deep transformation? And the answer I gave myself is that was so lucky to cultivate around me a collection of people who really listened to me in different forms and ways, but really listened to me, and I recognised that being listened to creates the space that gives you the freedom to change and to grow into your authentic self. And when I recognised that, I decided I will research listening.
As a result, one that took some significant meta-analysis of listening, help our audience understand the audio research you created around listening.
When I started about 2010 to search what is known about listening, I thought that there was almost nothing out there. And the reason is that if you search in academic search engines, research from listening, you’re most likely to find nothing because it’s hidden in tens of thousands of paper using the word listening not in the context we understand it, such as listening to English as a second language, such as computer protocols listening to the other computer. And you wouldn’t … You’re most likely to conclude that there is nothing.
I found 272 papers containing 307 studies reporting 930 different relationships of things with listening. And I decided to put an order on this diverse literature. You can find some writing about listening among nurses, some writing about listening among salespeople, among clinical psychology, some about law enforcement, some among developmental researchers studying how mothers listen to their child.
And in every domain there is relatively little, so you can’t see the big picture. I decided I want to know the big picture. As a yardstick I used other works that tells me that the average correlation found say in social psychology is 0.22, and that’s based on several thousand papers sampling eight million people. Okay. So I know that on average when you study whatever you study in the social psychology, 0.22 is about the average effect. I look at the consequences first of listening. For example, how a listener like you Oscar influence the talking of the other person, and the correlation is 0.40 something. It’s more than double than the typical correlation in the social sciences. That is, I found that a listener shapes very strongly the quality of the talk of the other person. So speaking ability in large part is determined not by the person, but by the audience.
Second, I was looking into variables that measure quality of relationship such as trust, empathy, and the opposite side of it, lack … Or violence, that is when there is no listening, the relationship is one of separating the two forces. So lack of violence. In everyone of these domain I get correlations that are either around 0.40 or close to 0.40, double of what is typically found in the social sciences.
Next I was asking myself, okay, I learned that one good listener will affect the quality of the speech of the other person. And as a result will create an encounter with trust, with empathy, with violent urges suppressed or muted. And then say, okay, what happens next? And then I was looking, I found papers about the wellbeing of the speaker. And here the correlations are again above the mean in the social sciences. Good listeners will increase the wellbeing of the person, whether it with reducing depression, reducing anxiety, increasing a sense of meaning in life, and improving the coping skills of the other person. That is you don’t need to go to a psychologist or you don’t need to be a psychologies to give benefits to the wellbeing of other people around you. Just good listening can do it. And we can talk about what good listening is. But some of the other speakers in your programme, your podcast, have delineated what it might be.
So, I also compared, for example, the effect of listening on depression to the effects of drugs on depression. So relative to meta-analysis of the effects of pharmaceutical interventions on depression, listening is more powerful than drugs. So I’m not saying it’s necessarily done on the same populations, but it’s interesting to know that listening is … It could be better than drug in improving the wellbeing of people around you. In parentheses, exercise may be even better for depression than drugs and listening combined.
But then I was looking at the cognitive processes of the speaker and it’s also coming with my research with former PhD students, especially with Guy Itzhakov that if you listen to me, you will change my opinion about whatever I was talking about. And the mechanism works like this: Carl Rogers recognised that each of us have inside of our mind contradictions. Now when I speak to you and you don’t listen to me, I will present to you the strong part in me and the more you argue with me, the more you will bolster my initial strong side, which will be presented verbally.
But if you listen well to me, I will first present to you my strong side, and if you persist in listening, I will become aware of an inner contradiction, and I will present to you the counter argument. Another digression I want to explain to the audience how does it work. I had a student in my office and a former executive MBA student who cheated on attendance sheet. He was absent from class, but somebody signed on his behalf. And he came to my office and I asked him openly, “So what’s up?” And he started with saying, “Your office clerks are really bad.” And I just reflected what he said that they are not good because A, B, and C. And then I asked him, “What else?” And he said, “Well, Professor Kluger, there’s something wrong with you too.” And I just reflected it. Well, I said, “I hear you saying that I’m not okay because A, B, and C, and what else?” Now I’m talking 40 minutes into the conversation, he says, “Well, I guess I’m no little bandit either,” meaning I’ve done something wrong.
So he’s coming into my office with one major idea that he’s right and nobody sees what wrong around. And just by listening he recognised that something is wrong with him. This is very hard to own these type of thoughts and a good listener can do that. I found out that on average again, the effect of a listener on changing the mind of the speaker, rather than arguing, is larger than the average in the social sciences. And last, maybe most relevant to your audience, I asked the question, “Okay, so what’s the relationship between listening and outcome for the listener?”
So first, a summary of some 30 studies relating listening to actual job performance or objective measures of performance show a correlation above this average that is good listeners are better performers, and among the studies that I’ve used for the meta-analysis, sales people that listen better sell more. Physicians who listen better are less likely to be sued for malpractice. Detectives who listen better are more likely to make the person being interrogated reveal new information to the police. Teachers who report that the school principal is a better listener are working in schools in which the students get higher scores on national standardised exams. And in workplaces where workers report that the manager is a better listener, there are less reports of accidents that must be reported to authorities.
And the list goes on and on and on. So you as a manager, if you listen better or as a worker, you’re likely to improve your own performance. But let’s move on. Maybe the strongest correlation I’ve found is between subordinates’ perception of the listening of the manager and how much people leadership skill they attribute to the leader. The correlation is getting close to 0.6. Never in my career have I seen such a correlation. It’s based on 17 studies across 8,000 employees. The better you listen to your subordinates, the more they will believe that you are a person who could lead people.
And interestingly it’s not related to the perception of how well you know to organise the tasks, so I’m not implying that listening is a remedy for all managerial issues. But like one important aspect of leadership is intimately related to the listening of the manager.
I think many people who run companies struggle with the constant chatter that we carry in our brains, and we don’t allow ourselves the time to actually practise deep listening. What Oscar does is he eloquently outline strategies to manage that struggle between feeling like we should be leading, when we’d actually probably achieve more from listening. It’s relevant, it’s practical, insightful, and I think most of all it makes you reconsider what listening actually is.
Finally, I can tell from this meta-analysis, they found that personality is much lesser of a predictor of your listening than environmental factors such as distraction, like your cell phone and your computer screen, and training. It is possible to train people to become better listeners. And the effects are also pretty large. It has really serious consequences. So if you are a manager in authority, you may want to consider training your staff and being trained with them in improving the listening in your team and to your customers, colleagues and whomever. So this is just the tip of the iceberg of the findings in my meta-analysis.
What are the three things you think delineate good listening?
When you enter a conversation with the decision to be there for the other. Everything else will flow from this decision. I just finished teaching an executive MBA of 52 students, and the class was cynical from the very beginning towards my messages and my exercises that involved listening to each other, telling meaningful stories, learning to ask for meaningful stories, helping the other work through two sides of an inner conflict and respecting both sides equally. And I had a lot of resistance in this class.
But I was firm. I most strongly remember a case that a woman in class said that what she learned from that particular meeting is that she shapes the identity of the people she listens to and she has a son with speech impediments that is very hard for her to listen to. And she was saying, “I learned today that I need to collect my energy and to listen to my son for him having a better future.” And then another student in the class said, “I don’t understand this nonsense and why we need listening in this class and why we do it in a management course. And I don’t find it useful at all.”
And then other students in the class attacked him. And then I intervened and I thanked that student for the courage of telling his own truth. I’m trying to say that at that moment, and not always I succeed, I was true to my decision to listen in a way that will support the wellbeing of anyone that is in the space. And I didn’t see the benefits of that. Like I talked to the student after class and I again thanked him and I reassured him that it was right for him to share whatever was his experience. And the class job is to learn to respect both those that find the listening very useful and those that find it very annoying.
Only in the very last class when I felt that I’m about to cry from it, and I don’t know why, that they felt, well, maybe this class was a lost cause, and for some reason it didn’t work well. I asked every one of the 52 students to complete the sentence, “From this class I learned that,” or, “I became aware of,” or, “I hated this.” And one student said, maybe the last six or seven students to talk, “I want to apologise to you, that I was so cynical throughout the semester and it was not the same person as the student who find it listening unuseful. And now I recognise that I missed a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to remedy whatever will be possible in the remainder of their final paper.”
And for me, this is a story about what it takes to make this decision. If you make this decision to listen, the way I defined it, you’re likely to fail oftentimes. You’re likely to be presented with, sometimes with really aggressive resistance. Granted, at times you will get such levels of thank yous and appreciation that it may melt your heart, but it is not guaranteed. It’s a choice you make because you believe it’s the right thing for people to be listened to. But so many people, perhaps so hurt as I am, if not even more, will not succumb to being listened to unless they feel very, very, very, very safe. And to create this space it may take long time.
What would be the three tips you would pass on to those listening to improve their listening in the next couple of days?
The first thing is commit yourself to listen to three people who you find very hard to listen to while telling them that you’re asking a favour to practise your own listening, and that you will put a timer during which you will not respond at all.
And just asked them the favour of telling you whatever they need to tell you. And you decide how long can you do that. Even if you start with three minutes, that will be fantastic. But you can try five minutes, and could find even eight. And I sent people to do it with a worker that they don’t like, or with their spouse, and most people come with interesting insights about it.
First on how difficult it is for them to shut up, or how difficult it may be for some people to continue talking when you just look at them benevolently, but waiting for them to talk. My second tip is the next time you feel that somebody that is talking to you is … Or that the conversation is stuck and you are in a loop that everybody’s repeating what they’re saying. And you’ve said already what you meant, and the other party said what he or she meant. And you still go on.
If you recognise that, stop and try to put a name to the feeling of the other person. For example, say, “Well, I guess you’re frustrated,” or “I guess,” and I emphasise the word guess, because you don’t know how the other person is feeling, but you guess. Just name the emotion that is present in the room. This often leads to change in the conversation to the real needs of the parties involved.
And the last tip is try it. Once your partner finish talking, don’t answer. Before that ask, is there anything else? Is there more? And wait. Because sometimes people said no. And if you wait another 10 seconds they said, “But actually,” and then they will open the much more interesting thing that they have to say. So just, “Is there anything else?” So simple to say. So hard to put in practise. These are my three tips. I find interesting in my research is the following question: if listening is so useful as I describe it, why is it that we need to talk about it here? Why isn’t everyone listening so well? And I think that understanding the obstacles for listening will help us enjoy the benefits of listening. And among my answers are, Carl Rogers talked about it. If you really listen, you will have to change, and that’s dangerous because the entire way you see things may flip on you.
For example, a very senior manager in my class did the exercise of five minutes listening to a subordinate. And this subordinate, he thought that she really didn’t care about her job because for the three years that she was working with him, every now and then she will cut early and ignore his request to finish the work on that day, and she just said, “I need to go and that’s it.” And he just stopped and listened. He found out that she’s taking care of her retarded sibling, and that she needs to take him from one place to another on those days. He had no clue for three years.
Then he thought of himself that I’m a people person. Then he had to face the fact that someone had such a personal issue for three years and he didn’t have a clue. So in one way it’s better that you don’t listen, because if you would, two things will happen for you: one, you’ll recognise things that maybe you don’t want to recognise, and two, you may need to change both your thinking and your action. And it doesn’t stop here, because some people that even if you listen to them, they will not reward you for that. My research with Dotan Castro have revealed that people high in avoidance attachment style, people that grew up with difficulty in creating intimacy, and that could be a third of the healthy population. When we listened to them they don’t feel comfortable, because they infer that you’re trying to be intimate with them.
And I’m not talking about sexual intimacy, just person to person, human touch. And we found out that it does not make them feel safe when somebody tries to listen to them. That the fact that you don’t listen well is not because you’re a bad person. It is because you have some needs that you either know to address without listening, or you don’t know how to address them with listening. Thank you for the inner place from which you were asking the questions.
This is one of the secrets that I have no clue how to get it, but I have a sense that such a meaningful conversation as the one that you developed with me is possible, only when you, as the listener, is finding in himself or herself a place some people call the knowing self, the wise self, or Gandlin called the felt sense. It’s a sacred place inside of our mind that is open for the possibilities in the other and in the connection to the other.
So I thank you for bringing this amazing quality to our meeting because me too, I’m going to out of this conversation feeling blessed to have had this conversation with you.
My friend, shalom. I’m curious if you will improve the why I ask questions for the audience for the next interviews, if you’ve got any observations you make about my listening.
I think that you are an amazing listener, and my hunch is to not be worried about any particular question, but keep cultivating your amazing ability to find the place in yourself to be with the other. What was the most moving piece of this talk for you?
And reflecting on this most moving piece or aspect of this talk, what can you do about it in the next few days?
It’s so hard to summarise this episode, so I’ll talk about what I learned and what I applied as a result of listening to Avi. My listening influences the speaker. My listening influences the speaker more deeply than I ever imagined, and my listening can create a massive difference in those I listen to, as well as those who listen to them as I influence their thinking. I thought about a pebble dropping in a lake and creating these concentric rings that ripple out in the world. I loved Avi’s passion, his deep exploration of the science and all the research he’s done into listening. So much paper I’m imagining, books and books. So what have I applied as a result of listening to Avi? This has been really hard for me because what I’ve had to do is start to listen to radio shows, TV shows, and podcasts that I passionately disagree with, and this has been really hard for me. But what it has done, as Avi said, as Carl Rogers has said, if you really want to listen, you really need to be willing to change.
And it’s in exposing myself to other ideas I have a broader perspective on the world. I’m a little less judgmental. My top tip that I took out of this today was when you listen and simply say the words, “Is there anything else,” until they say the words, “But actually what this really is about,” or “You know what I really want to say, what I actually mean is.” These three key phrases have become more obvious to me in conversations, as I prompt the question, ” Is there anything else?”
I wonder how your thinking and that of the speaker will become different if you simply say the words, “Is there anything else.” To the team that listens to me, a big thank you, to Nell, to June, to Jenny and to Johnny. Thank you in helping on our quest to create a 100 million deep listeners in the world. Thanks for listening.