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Podcast Episode 108: The Assumptions That Stop Us From Listening Well with Dave Stachowiak

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An Interview with Dave Stachowiak – Coaching for leaders podcast about The Assumptions That Stop Us From Listening Well

In this discussion, we cover

1. Tuning your listening
2. Noticing your attention
3. The role of questions


Oscar Trimboli (00:00):
G’day, it’s Oscar. The difference between hearing and listening is action.

In your listener survey, you said you wanted to hear more from me as well as me to continue interviewing great workplace listeners.

In this interview today with Dave Stachowiak. He’s the host of the Coaching for Leaders podcast. He’s created a massive body of work for leaders in government, commerce and beyond.

There’s over 600 episodes that Dave has recorded, a massive library for you to go and explore as well.

I strongly encourage you to check out Coaching for Leaders.

Dave and I explore several of the assumptions that tend to get in the way of listening well.

We discuss that listening commences before a conversation and how to tune your listening like an orchestra.

Why you can’t always give your full and undivided attention and the difference between giving and paying attention.

We explore the role of curiosity, flexibility and openness when it comes to listening and why asking questions doesn’t necessarily mean you are listening well.

Finally, I wanted to share a few of the recent book reviews for how to listen – Discover the hidden Key to Better Communication, the most comprehensive book about listening in the workplace.

This one’s from Harvey in the United States. He says,

“It’s full of valuable nuggets that will boost your effectiveness in all areas of your life. All areas of your life wasn’t something I was expecting, given it’s the most comprehensive book about listening in the workplace.” Harvey continues to say listening is one of our most powerful, yet underrated aspects of effective communication in all areas of our life. It is key to making strong connections with others which are necessary for success and fulfillment, not only in our workplaces, but in all parts of our lives. Even though I thought I already knew a bit about listening, Oscar takes this to a deeper level, constantly referencing it for valuable nuggets that I will use, not only in my work, but in all areas of my life.” Thanks, Harvey.

This review from Moshi in Israel, he says,

“An extremely practical and insightful guide to the most important yet neglected skill.” Oscar Trimboli gives us one of the most practical and insightful guides. Oscar comes from the business world. It was in that world he was able to observe the cost of not listening well. Therefore, it’s no surprise that his theories and examples are extremely practical and down to earth. His approach to listening is deep, logical, well organized, and based on real life examples. And the book artfully brings us into a way that’s easy to read and easy to implement. “

And finally, this one from Sue from Australia.

“What I loved about Oscar’s How to Listen is the depth of his research. Oscar raises aspects of listening I’ve never considered. I will be incorporating his insights into my own communication. And as a result, I have recommended this book to many others.”

To Harvey, to Moshi, and to Sue, thanks for reading and reviewing How to Listen.

I think authors tend to focus on selling books, and writers are obsessed about what sense the readers make for their world.

Thank you, Harvey, Sue and Moshi for helping me through your reviews to understand how this book helps you make sense of your world.

Let’s listen to Dave.

Dave Stachowiak (04:14):
It’s so easy to draw conclusions instead of being curious. Our assumptions can easily get in the way of listening well. On this episode, where to watch for those tendencies and how to do better in connecting with others. This is Coaching for Leaders episode 598.

Speaker 3 (04:33):
Produced by Innovate Learning. Maximizing human potential.

Dave Stachowiak (04:42):
Greetings to you from Orange County, California. This is Coaching for Leaders and I’m your host, Dave Stachowiak.

Leaders aren’t born, they’re made. And this weekly show helps you discover leadership wisdom through insightful conversations.

One of the things that so many of us think about when we do think about having insightful conversations, of course, is listening. Listening is a skill that so many of us aspire to do better, not only as leaders, but of course in all aspects of our lives. And yet it is a skill that evades us often and that many of us bring assumptions to and those assumptions don’t always serve us well.

Today I’m so glad to welcome back to the show, an expert that’s going to help us to look at some of our assumptions on listening, nudge us in a little bit different direction, help us to do an even better job at showing up as the listeners we want to be.

I’m so glad to welcome back Oscar Trimboli.

He is an author, host of the Apple Award-winning podcast, Deep Listening and a sought after keynote speaker. Oscar’s passionate about using the gift of listening to bring positive change in homes, workplaces and cultures around the world.

Through his work with chairs, boards of directors, executive teams, and many others, Oscar has experienced firsthand the transformational impact leaders and organizations can have when they listen beyond the words. He’s a marketing and technology industry veteran with over 30 years experience across general management, sales, marketing, and operations for Microsoft, PeopleSoft, Polycom, Professional Advantage and Vodafone.

Oscar is the author of the book, Deep Listening, and now his newest book, How to Listen: Discover the Hidden Key to Better Communication. Oscar, based on the feedback I’ve received from so many in our audience when you’ve been on the show before, perhaps you sir, are the hidden key to better communication. I’m so glad to have you back. Welcome.

Oscar Trimboli (06:44):
G’day, Dave. Looking forward to listening to your questions about listening.

Dave Stachowiak (06:50):
I think a wonderful place to start is with an analogy that you mentioned in the book, probably one of my favorite things you wrote about an orchestra. I think many of us have had that experience of going to a concert and watching and listening as an orchestra tunes before the performance begins. And you utilize that image as an analogy for listening.

How does the tuning of an orchestra matter as far as how we listen?

Oscar Trimboli (07:28):
One of the first fallacies of listening is that it happens during the conversation and listening happens before, during, and after the conversation. To be a world-class listener, you need to be available to listen. And for that to take place, you need a ritual. And the ritual is no different to a professional musician that tunes their instrument no matter whether they played in the identical location with the identical orchestra members, with the identical conductor and the identical music. Every single time they turn up to perform, they humble themselves to their instrument, to the orchestra, to the conductor, and more importantly, to the audience and go through a ritual of tuning their instrument.

Now, this can take between two and five minutes depending on where they’re noticing the tuning is at. But with that ritual in progress, it’s not something you can fake. You can’t fake listening, and you can’t fake the ritual of tuning an instrument.

You either are tuning your instrument or you’re not. You can’t get away with faking it. And when you tune your instrument, the performance becomes consistent, predictable, professional, and it creates a great experience for the musician, for the orchestras, for the conductor, and ultimately for the audience.

And the opposite is true too. Dave, when you are in that moment and you’re going to a concert, when you are sitting in the audience, you go through a ritual too.

You sit down, you collect your thoughts, you make sure your devices are to a setting that’s respectful for those around you and the performance as well. But it’s the step that most people skip Dave. And as a result, most people arrive at a conversation with a soundtrack playing in their mind. That’s not the music that you want to play between you and the other person or the group you’re part of.

Dave Stachowiak (09:23):
What does that soundtrack sound like when it’s not tuned to the place that we want to really be?

Oscar Trimboli (09:32):
Much like an instrument, it’s crackly, it’s noisy, it’s disrupting you and where your attention is. And what that does is it sends signals to the brain to say, “Look, just use some shortcuts, Oscar, just use some assumptions to jump ahead in this conversation.” And as a result, the conversations feel jarring, they feel disjointed, the other person doesn’t feel heard, the conversation feels rushed.

And often you’re repeating things in the conversation whether you are asking the speaker to say something again because you might not have understood the nuance or the context or the situation they were in. But usually it’s because you are tuned into a completely different frequency.

So when it’s not present, when tuning doesn’t happen, it’s awkward, it’s fragmented, it’s coarse, it’s a rough conversation.

Dave Stachowiak (10:28):
And so common that we make that error and skip that step. And I’m thinking about so many in our listening audience that are going into so many different kind of conversations every day. A feedback conversation, a conversation with a client, a meeting presenting to the executive leadership team, a conversation with a spouse, and then all of a sudden three or four different variations of all of those. And at intervals throughout the day with often not very much margin and how often we don’t take the time to stop in tune for a moment. And I’m curious, when someone does stop and tunes a bit, what’s something you see people do that that makes that work?

Oscar Trimboli (11:17):
We’ve researched over 20,000 workplace listeners, and the joy of that is I get to see some really rich verbatim and descriptions about what happens when great listeners are present.

The first thing that happens is by being present and just listening, you actually changed the way the speaker communicates to you.

The speaker feels much more comfortable speaking about what they mean and think rather than only what they say or whatever’s top of mind.

As the listener, what it opens up for you is you not only listen to the content, you can have enough space in your mind to start to listen to the patterns in the way the speaker is speaking, not just what they say, how they say it. And most crucially, Dave, you can start to tune in with your presence available to the speaker and start to listen for what’s not said.

It’s impossible to listen for what’s not said if your mind is racing ahead because you haven’t processed the last meeting or you could be processing the next meeting.

And a couple of numbers, Dave, just to remind everyone, I think at 900 words per minute, yet I speak at 125. So it means the first thing that comes out of my mouth is roughly 14% of what I’m thinking at any one time.

And when you tune and are available, you can start to listen what’s absent, not just for what’s being said. So that act of tuning is an act of self-respect and mutual respect for you, the other party and the conversation. If you have that foundation in place, you open up a world of possibilities.

And what the Deep Listening research participants say, “Oscar, what surprised me is by doing this, our meetings are shorter and it produces the number of meetings I have to have because there’s less rework.”

Dave Stachowiak (13:23):
I’m thinking about what you said a moment ago that we often don’t listen further what’s not being said. And oftentimes we’re thinking about the next question.

And that brings me to one of the assumptions that leapt out at me when I read the book is, and I think many of us carry this assumption, I know I did for a while.

That if I’m asking questions, I’m listening. And you write in the book, I’m quoting you, “Many people think listening is about questioning when your mind is absent or wandering. These questions appear random to the speaker rather than expanding the conversation. Aimless and arbitrary questions waste the speaker’s time and diminish the relationship.”

And I was reflecting on that, Oscar, and thinking how many times I’ve been a part of a conversation, I’ve been asked questions and sometimes have been the question asker. Where the questions were very aimless and arbitrary and they weren’t necessarily contributing to more understanding. It’s a common miss for us, isn’t it?

Oscar Trimboli (14:32):
I think a lot of people confuse a statement with a question and a really simple hack is to think about this. If you’re in a complex dialogue, whether it’s a group conversation, a one-on-one conversation, a professional development conversation, a feedback conversation. If your role is to listen, if you’re the host or the manager, think about both neutral questions and shorter questions.

So the hack is this, if your question is longer than eight words, it’s likely to be biased. And with that in place, a lot of our questions, the shorter they are, the more expansive they’ll be, not for us because the dirty little secret of listening is it’s not your job as the listener ultimately to make sense of what they are saying.

It’s your job to help the speaker process what they’re thinking.

And again, you can do this by the shorter questions. So for those of you listening, in the book, one of the things we do at the end of every chapter, we ask you to read the book, only one chapter per week because we want you to practice.

Listening is a contact sport. And one of the things we invite you to do is just keep a track of some of the length of your questions.

Now, if you are lucky enough to do video and you record those conversations with permission with the counterpart, you can look at the transcript later and have a look at how long was your question.

Dave, what’s your experience been with the impact of longer or shorter questions?

Dave Stachowiak (16:04):
The shorter the question often the more that I hear from the person that I’m asking the question of. And it’s funny you mentioned that the challenge is sometimes we get beyond eight or nine words, we start to bring in bias and I was thinking about that last question I asked you.

It was a pretty lengthy question and it made an assumption at the end, an assumption I know you very much agree with based on the book that you’ve written. And yet, still in a way very much a biased question.

And boy, if we can get the questions to be shorter, I’m thinking about the work of Michael Bungay Stanier in The Coaching Habit. All of those seven questions are so short and how a question like, “How so?” Or an invitation like, “Tell me more,” can really open up something that is pretty profound.

And one of the things that, as you were saying a moment ago, I think sometimes we assume as listeners that it’s our job when we’re listening to someone to draw a conclusion about what they’re saying and to paraphrase that conclusion and to help them to maybe even reword it a bit. And what I hear you making the invitation is not necessarily to draw a conclusion, but the aim should be to be curious. What does that look like?

Oscar Trimboli (17:35):
When you ask those shorter questions, you are helping the speaker to unpick those unsaid words and they will describe this very differently. They will physically change their body position. They will sigh, they will exhale because they’re accessing deeper thoughts. They’re accessing, in Danny Kahneman’s words, their level two thinking. They’re going much deeper and they’re going to what is the essence, what matters in their thinking, not just the first superficial thing that happens in a conversation.

A lot of listening is wasted because we’re dialoguing about the first 14% of what someone’s thinking. It’s like exchanging chat messages with somebody or email messages where nobody’s editing what they do and they just send whatever they type for the first time. So when you get beyond that first level, Dave, the conversations get much shorter. One of the invitations I make to everybody, and I’ve got a client in the UK that’s become quite famous in our industry for using this, that not enough of us focus at the beginning of the conversation on the process of the conversation, how do we have this discussion?

And they place way too much emphasis only on the outcome. But one of the questions we invite people to use, and we talk about this in the book, is “what will make this a great conversation?”

Now if you ask that at the beginning to the speaker, they’ll say, “Dave, a great conversation would sound like this.” [inaudible 00:19:17] Occasionally by making that invitation they’ll ask you the opposite and they’ll say, “What will make this a great conversation for you?” This becomes a compass for the conversation. And this is what shortens the conversation by having what would make this a great conversation as a setting.

You can check in every 10 minutes in a 30-minute meeting, every 15 minutes in a one-hour meeting and just reflect back.

Dave, at the beginning of the conversation, you said a great conversation was this, how are we going with that? And what Emma’s learned in the UK is those points become an instant moment where the speaker says, “I’ve got what I need. That’s enough.” So they don’t fill up the 30 minutes just because it’s in the schedule.

They may go at the 10 or the 20-minute mark and say, “I’ve got what I need, thank you.” But if we’re not tuned in and we’re not listening to what’s unsaid and we’re not asking that process question at the beginning, conversations ramble, we ask endless questions, and it doesn’t feel great.

Dave Stachowiak (20:17):
And then we end up with the aimless and arbitrary questions that we were talking about earlier.

And I’m thinking about one of the other lines that I highlighted, which is effective paraphrasing advances the understanding of the speaker and the listener.

And that the aim here really is if we can come at this from a place of curiosity and understanding and appreciation, then that is going to help us to get to not only a better place, but get there in a more efficient way than we would if we didn’t come at it from that mindset.

Oscar Trimboli (20:58):
I remember being in a conversation with a client, you’ve probably been in these really dusty boardrooms. And we were having this conversation about the frustration that this person felt about the growth of the public sector part of the business they were leading versus the growth of the commercial or the private part of the organization.

And she made this reference. And when you are listening carefully, you can start to listen for absolutes.

And these are really good code words that show you where the speaker is making some pretty big assumptions and probably where you, as a listener, can help them make progress.

So she made this comment to me, Dave, she said, “Look, I’m so frustrated with the public sector part of our business, they always have anemic growth. They’re the hardest to deal with and I just want to shut down that division.” And I didn’t paraphrase what she just said, I just simply said “Always?”

And she laughed and she said, “All right, Oscar, not always, there are some good clients in there.” And I said, “Oh, what do they have in common?” And she said, “I’m not sure what you mean.” I said, “Let’s line up all the public sector clients in this boardroom and at one end the ones that you’re struggling with. And at that end, they’re the ones that you’re having success, what do they have in common?”

And she paused for a good two minutes and a good listener is okay with silence, Dave, maybe not so good for a podcast, but in the conversation, silence is allowing the speaker to process that level-two thinking. And she said, “There are three clients here who behave like commercial clients and that’s why we love them.”

And I just said, “What’s next?” And she said, I need to go back to the team. We need to think about this differently. I’ve made a vast assumption just based on a standard industry code.”

Now come back a year later, the clients that were on the right-hand side of the room were integrated into commercial business and they tripled the size of that business for those three clients because they stopped treating them like public sector clients and listened to the outcomes and the policy objectives they were trying to achieve.

This was one of those semi-government kind of authorities. That’s what they all had in common and they had some aspects of commercial where they sold products and things like that.

But in that moment where my client said always, I could have just asked her a question, that’s like, “Well, what are the percentages and have you got the right leader on this?” And that’s me listening in a biased way and listening from my side of the table.

I’m listening [inaudible 00:23:50] in that case. But when I’m tuned in, you can listen for absolutes and they’re words like always, never, precisely. These are some of the words you’ll hear when people use that and that’s your invitation to come back and get them to notice it.

So it’s not your job to judge it. I didn’t know if always was good or bad. I just knew that the use of that absolute phrase in that moment was a code for me to say, “Wow, there’s a really big assumption sitting behind that. I’m wondering my clients actually thought about the impact of that assumption.”

Dave Stachowiak (24:28):
One of the assumptions that many of us make when we show up in a venue or conversation and our intention is to listen well, is that we need to pay attention and you invite us to think about that a little bit differently rather than paying attention, giving attention. What’s the distinction between the two?

Oscar Trimboli (24:52):
The first thing I want to be clear on is neither is correct or incorrect.

Where your attention is orientated is defined by listening, which is situational or contextual and relation. You’ll listen differently to a police officer than you will to a school principal. You’ll listen differently to a mechanic than you will to your mother, for example.

So when we think about giving attention and paying attention, paying attention feels like it’s a taxation that you have to pay. It’s something that you have to do. You do it grudgingly, you understand its purpose, but it comes from a place that is about you and your listening on your side of the conversation.

Paying attention sounds like, “I will pay this tax until you’re finished and then it’s my turn.” Now that has a place in routine conversation. That if you’re in a conversation that’s emerging, a new relationship, complex scenarios requiring deep collaboration, paying attention is an act of curiosity.

It’s an act of generosity. It’s opening you up to go in this moment rather than being a passenger listening to the flight announcement as they read out the various safety instructions.

In that context, it’s routine, it’s ritual, and you may or may not even pay attention when the aircraft’s about to take off. Wellington Airport, Dave, over the other side of the island here in New Zealand is one of the most complex landing areas in the world. It’s between two big islands that funnel a huge amount of wind through it.

And I travel there quite regularly in the nineties and there were many times mid-flight where the captain had aborted landings and said, “This will be our last attempt for this landing. The crew is now going to read the flight safety announcement.” Now that is an emerging situation and volatile, and I am giving my complete and undivided attention in that moment.

In that moment I’m reading the flight card, I’m paying attention to the seats behind me of where the exit is. I’m watching where the flight attendant is actually pointing to and I’m noticing how the other people are reacting in that moment.

I think when we give attention, we can’t do it continuously, it’s quite draining. But we need to know that in the context of emerging or new relationships or complex or volatile situations, giving attention is the most powerful way you can bring yourself to that dialogue.

But routines or rituals, you are doing it right now.

You’re probably paying attention to this interview between Dave and myself and that’s okay because you can process it at that level.

The question is simply this, in the moment you are in with that other person or the team meeting, is your attention required to be given or to be paid? And as long as people are choiceful about that, again, the speaker will experience it and change the way they described me.

Dave Stachowiak (28:09):
That’s the word that comes up for me in listening to what you just said. It’s choice.

That it’s not just I go into a situation and I need to pay attention. It’s that yes, I may do that, but I may also make the choice to give attention. And I’m thinking about that also in the context of a short paragraph you wrote in the book that just landed with me, is so true.

You write, “Whether you have a lifelong relationship or a meeting someone for the first time, you will bring a different type of attention to the preparation and the conversation. As many commented in the Deep Listening research, the longer the relationship, the less conscious they are of their attention in the moment, the more likely you will use assumptions and mental shortcuts to anticipate, jump ahead or interrupt the speaker.”

I was thinking about that and I was thinking about some of the closest relationships in my life.

People I work with closely, family, Bonnie, our kids. And there are times that making those mental shortcuts and jumping ahead are actually helpful. They help us to make leaps and make things more efficient that you couldn’t possibly give the attention to, that you described, Oscar. That energy level. You can’t do that all day long.

But the other side’s also true too, right? It’s challenging if we’re always in that zone of just paying attention and we’re not making that active choice to give attention, especially to the relationships that are closest to us. And I hear the invitation to really have that be a conscious decision.

Oscar Trimboli (29:50):
We all have listening batteries, no different to your cell phones.

And depending on the time of the day you are at, your batteries might be drained. They may be moving from green to yellow or yellow to red, and it might not be a great time for the conversation.

It struck me, would be about a decade ago, when I realized coming home to my wife where she wants me to be verbal and have a conversation with her, my listening batteries were completely drained.

This is what I do professionally. I’m listening to people all day, every day. And it wasn’t until I said to her what does she want from this conversation? And she said, “I just want you to listen.” I said, “Right now I can’t give that to you. I’m going to need 10 minutes to process this.”

And I just recharged my listening batteries by playing a particular song. I’ve got three songs that are part of my ritual and this song was a mid-tempo song. So I have a slow song, typically I use that for tuning myself into one-on-one conversations about 70 beats per minute.

And then I have a song that is about 120 and then I have one at 170 words per minute for really high energy listening. And once I realized that my listening batteries were drained and I came back, it only took me five minutes to get through that song and I was ready to listen to Jen.

But if I wasn’t conscious about where my attention was in that moment, I could have just gone through the motions with her and frustrated her. And she comments on that quite regularly.

She says, “I’m glad you did that in that moment.” It was a big conversation. It was something fairly fundamental to our family values. I didn’t walk away from the conversation, I just reset my listening batteries and came back to it. It was a great conversation. So sometimes you need to signal to the other person that now might not be a great time for this conversation to take place.

Dave Stachowiak (31:53):
I’m hearing two things in what you just said.

One of them is what an example of what you mentioned earlier of tuning, right?

And the second thing I’m hearing is that it didn’t have to take a long time. It was five minutes of taking that time to reset.

It wasn’t three days later or a week later. And that strikes me as so helpful because that’s the reality so many of us live and work in every day, our family relationships, meetings going between, is that if even stopping for a couple of minutes to make the choice of paying attention or giving attention, of taking a few moments to tune.

I love the practice of listening to a song, what a neat idea, but whatever it is for us of just stopping and making that being a conscious choice, what a different way then you show up for the next interaction.

Oscar Trimboli (32:45):
And whether you’re logging in from video conference to video conference and you’re working remotely or hybrid or face-to-face, you do need rituals.

Often in workshops, always say, “Manage your electronic devices, drink a glass of water and take three deep breaths.”

They are the easiest things for me to say and the hardest things for you to practice.

But having that ritual, that reset is really crucial because a lot of us aren’t conscious. What is the percentage on our listening battery today in this conversation?

Are we above 50% or below 50%? Because we don’t take the time to tune or even think about that. We just go mechanically from a conversation to a conversation, we’re robotic in the dialogue, the dialogue takes much longer. We diminish our relationship and the outcome is not great.

When you have a very simple ritual, for some of the people in the Deep Listening group, the one they have gravitated to the most is just three deep breaths, in through the nose, down to the bottom of the diaphragm and out through the mouth.

And some do it with their eyes closed and some don’t but that very act of committing to a ritual is crucial.

In the world of judo, you can’t go into the dojo and practice against somebody who’s at a higher belt than you because you’ll damage yourself. And a lot of us damage relationships because we go into conversations not doing the work that’s required, foundations and setting up the conversation for success ahead of time.

So commit not to perfection, commit to just being better in the next meeting you have in the moment during that meeting and commit to yourself. If you can make those three commitments to the practice and the ritual of tuning, the rest of the listening becomes easy.

Because Dave, I get a lot of pushback where people say to me, “Oscar, listening is really hard. It’s really draining. It’s exhausting.”

And I say, “You’re doing it wrong. Can I invite you to another approach? When done well, listening is light, it’s easy, it’s powerful, and it definitely shortens meetings.”

But too many of us can’t listen in a light and easy way because we’re still listening to ourselves before we arrive at the conversation. And that tuning ritual that we talked about right at the beginning of our conversation is the pathway to progressing your listening in every moment, in every meeting.

Dave Stachowiak (35:27):
You have dedicated your career, Oscar, to helping us all to listen better. You’ve written several books. You have a podcast that’s centered on this. You’ve done keynote speaking all over the world.

As you researched this book and spent all the time writing and thinking and listening, of course, to others. What’s something that you changed your mind on?

Oscar Trimboli (35:53):
A sense you’re channeling Jennifer Garvey Berger. This is her go-to question and an amazing authority in the field of adult learning theory and adult development.

Dave, I’ve probably changed my mind on everything when it comes to listening.

What I’ve realized is the more I research it, the less I know the context that people give to me now as I speak to more and more people. Cause like, “Oh Oscar, you got to go do some work there.”

And the one thing that changed my mind the most is a conversation between Jennifer and Christopher. And Christopher coming home from school and saying to his mom, “Mommy, mommy, I’m so excited today I learned math and I learned that three is half of eight.” Now Jennifer is a former primary school teacher and she thought she misheard him and she said, “Honey, could you say that again?” And he said, “Mommy, I learned today in math that three is half of eight.”

And she just shook her head and thought, “What are they teaching kids at school these days?” So she went to the cupboard and she got out eight M&Ms and laid them out on the table like little soldiers in a row of four, facing each other.

And she picked up Christopher and put him on the table and said, “Honey, can you count how many M&Ms are on this side?” And he went, “One, two, three, four.” “And how about on the other side, honey?” “Mum, I don’t need to count this four.” And she said, “See, Christopher Four is Half Of Eight.”

And with that Christopher leapt off the table, went to a corner cupboard, grabbed a piece of paper and a sharpie or a big texta, if you’re from another part of the world, and drew the figure eight for his mom. He showed it to his mom and then he folded it in half vertically.

He tore it in half and said, “Mommy, see three is half of eight.” And with that visual image of three being half of eight, Jennifer realized that her son thought about the world completely differently. Now, if you follow along and you fold that piece of paper in half horizontally, zero is half of eight as well.

Many of you in your workplaces are obsessed with proving everybody wrong and telling them the four is half of eight, always, everywhere, on the earth, on the moon, on Mars.

Four is half of eight.

But when you listen to people, you are open to the possibilities that zero is half of eight, three is half of eight, four is half of eight. And when you listen to what people mean, not what they say, you can really have a massive impact. The postscript to that story, Dave, is this, what you don’t know about Christopher.

He’s a world champion bug catcher. And when I say bugs, I’m not talking the insect variety. I’m talking about the computer software variety. Christopher is not neurotypical. And yet in that moment, Jennifer had the consciousness to realize that her son had a way to view and listen to the world completely differently.

So what changed my mind was the role that our listening filters play and how our assumptions get in the way, especially with me. That’s why I had to go back and do more research with the Deep Listening Ambassador Community and do re-writesparts of the book based on what we were hearing in the research. So that’s where I changed my mind, Dave.

Numbers matter till they don’t, and three can be half of eight, zero can be half of eight, or can be half of eight when you listen to what it means to people, not what you just heard.

Dave Stachowiak (39:32):
Oscar Trimboli is the author of How To Listen, Discover the Hidden Key to Better Communication. Oscar, always so grateful for your wisdom.

Oscar Trimboli (39:41):
Thanks for listening.

Dave Stachowiak (39:48):
If this conversation was helpful to you, several related episodes I’d recommend.

One of them is episode 458, the Way to Be More Coach-like with Michael Bungay Stanier. Michael’s been on the show half a dozen times over the years and in that conversation we talked about his book, The Advice Trap. Of course, he’s also the author of the very popular Coaching Habit book. I love that conversation with Michael in episode 458 because he makes the point that listening well, coaching well doesn’t necessarily mean you never interrupt.

Many of us have heard that listening well means that we sit, ask questions and listen and let the other person talk as much as they need to. Well, sometimes that isn’t practical or actually even helpful for either party, episode 458 on ways you can do better on approaching that complex situation.

I’d also recommend the last time Oscar was on episode 500, Four Habits That Derail Listening.It’s a conversation that goes right along with this one today. Oscar and I looked at the four archetypes of where we tend to get into trouble listening and how we can do better with the tendencies that tend to show up for all of us. It’s a great compliment to this conversation episode 500 for that.

And then finally, I’d recommend the most recent time Marshall Goldsmith was on the show. We had a conversation about how to genuinely show up for others on episode 590 and the topic, the point that Marshall made in that conversation about singular empathy is so critical for listening.

Many of you, especially those of you who have busy schedules as executive leaders and find yourself in lots of different kinds of conversations all day long, have told me that that concept of singular empathy was so important in thinking about how you show up well and listen genuinely for others, episode 590 for more details there. All of those episodes you can find on the website.

I’m inviting you today to set up your free membership at It’s going to give you access to an entire array of benefits inside the free membership, and one of them is the ability to search the library of interviews since 2011 by topic and one of those topic areas is conversation.

There are many episodes over the years, including a number of the ones I just mentioned on the topic of conversation. How do we have good and effective conversations that also help us move forward in our organizations? So much of the work of leaders is about conversation and dialogue and difficult situations and being able to handle that well. It’s a great place for you to lean in on if you want to get better.

It’s just one of the many dozens of focus areas inside the free membership. If you set up your free membership and then go over to the episode library, you will see a number of places you can engage there, plus all of the other resources inside of the free membership.

Next week I’m glad to welcome Robert Lefkowitz to the show. On the topic of the art of mentoring well.

Few reasons, I think Bob is a great example of someone who can teach us about mentoring.

One of them is that he utilized mentoring early on in his career to learn how to do his work well, and as a result won a Nobel Prize and then turned around and mentored many students and folks in his lab over the years.

One of them went on to win the Nobel Prize with him.

What a great story about mentoring. He’s going to be sharing some of his key principles on how to mentor well with us next week. Join me for that conversation with Bob on Monday. Have a great week and see you then.

Oscar Trimboli (43:19):
I wonder what you took away from the discussion. I’d love to know. Email me with your reflections,

In the episode show notes, there’s a link to Dave’s two pages of interview notes partly created before and after the interview. It’s fascinating how people approach the process of interviewing.

Very insightful to see how Dave did it. If you enjoyed this episode with Dave, you can search for episode 500 when Dave and I discussed the four habits that derail your listening.

I’m Oscar Trimboli, and along with the Deep Listening Ambassador Community, we’re on a quest to create a hundred million deep listeners in the world, and you have given us the greatest gift of all.

You’ve listened to us. Thanks for listening.


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