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Podcast Episode 124: What can you learn from over 33,519 workplace listeners?

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Oscar Trimboli conducted a survey with over 33,000 workplace listeners to understand the barriers to effective listening.

He initially struggled with analyzing the data and sought assistance from experts.

Through their collaboration, they identified common listening barriers, which they called the “villains of listening.”

The survey results showed that most participants struggled with listening at levels 1, 2, and 3, rather than the higher levels of listening.

Oscar emphasizes the importance of focusing on improving listening at these lower levels, as it has the greatest impact on communication in the workplace.

He also provides tips for improving listening before and during meetings, such as creating a pre-meeting ritual and anticipating distractions.

An update on the fourth generation including;

  1. aggregate listening profiles for more than 10 people
  2. cross-industry benchmarking
  3. administration features to track progress of completion
  4. volume discounts for organizations
  5. volume discounts for accredited consultants



Oscar Trimboli (00:00):
What can you learn from over 33,000 workplace listeners?

Back in June 2018, I logged into a survey tool. I started to explore how to construct questions that would help people understand what gets in their way when it comes to listening.

These were the questions I asked,

“What frustrates you the most when someone isn’t listening to you?

What do you struggle with the most when it comes to listening to somebody else?

And if you could improve just one thing about your listening, what would you like to make progress on?”

200 people responded to the survey, a little bit more than the 50 that I’d actually anticipated, and I soon learned that I was completely out of my depth when it comes to constructing research, making a survey, analyzing the data, creating insights, and actionable next steps. Just because I could collect the survey results, it didn’t mean I understood how to make an impact with it.

I decided to ask my network if they knew anyone who could assist. Eventually, I was introduced to four different people, and two of those conversations were really good examples of how the other person wasn’t listening to me. One of those meetings was professionally cut short because they realized very quickly they couldn’t assist with my requirements. They couldn’t help, and they said so, and they said so quickly and within 15 minutes. I’m very grateful for that.

The fourth discussion took place on the 11th of September with Heidi Martin. Heidi and I discussed if listening barriers could be coded and grouped into uniform cohorts of respondents.

The meeting lasted about 50 minutes, and Heidi asked lots of probing questions. Skillfully, on her part, she didn’t promise anything other than I need to take a fortnight to reflect on what might be the most effective questions, survey design, and potential outputs to inform the listening quiz and its accompanying report.

What struck me about the conversation with Heidi was, she wasn’t looking to discover anything. She was exploring along with me, and we were figuring out what we knew and what we didn’t know. Heidi was a really good example of somebody who was helping to explore not just what I was saying.

She was also exploring what I wasn’t saying. She was a ninja in level 4 listening, the unsaid.

Wind the clock forward about 12 months and multiple iterations, revisions, and insights from Heidi. She presented to me her insights from over 500 respondents. There were some homogenous groups, uniform groups, some groups that had a lot in common, and these were the foundations of what was to become the villains of listening.

The villains emerge from word clouds. These were software that highlighted what the common phrases were that people were using in their free text responses. These free text responses, all 500, were coded, meaning I looked at them, Heidi looked at them.

We had a few other people, in fact, 12 other people, three lots of four, all representing one of the different villain groups to look at the information within their cohort to see if that made sense.

Did that sound right?

Did it feel right?

The feedback was pretty consistent. You’ve kind of got it, Oscar. This sounds like what I struggle with when it comes to listening. They were responding to 14 questions, and as a result, we were starting to get some very consistent results that we predicted before people took the assessments.

I learned a valuable lesson about playing to my strengths. Strategy is one of my key strengths. Details and maths is not. By bringing on experts who could provide insights into their field, I got a much better result.

The next step in the journey was March 2020, and the listening quiz became available for anyone to complete. 14 questions, one free text response, and a tailored report highlighting their primary and secondary listening barrier, as well as three practical and pragmatic tips for them based on their input. It’s now 2024, and 33,519 people have now taken the quiz. Between 2020 and 2024, the listening quiz software has been updated four times.

Our 2024 release is by far the most comprehensive release, including extra functionality and reporting.

The first one is, you are able to aggregate reports based on groups of 10 or more respondents if you are part of an organization. You may be in training, learning and development, organizational development, leadership.

So if you’d like to understand how a group of 10 or more people listen as an aggregate profile, we have ways to describe that at a team level, at department level, maybe a project team level, even an organization level.

We’re able to also do cross-industry comparisons, so you can compare yourself to a peer in your industry that might be in your industry, in your geography, or it may be overseas.

The third level of reporting is reporting to allow the administrators of the projects to see the progress that people are making. Once they’ve been invited to complete the quiz, we’ll be able to tell you then how many people you’ve invited, how many people have commenced the quiz, and how many people have completed the quiz.

This is going to be really helpful if you’re in human resources, people and culture, learning, and development. Maybe you want to do an offsite for an executive team.

Equally, if you’re an external consultant, a trainer, a facilitator, a leadership expert and you want to administer the quiz on behalf of your clients, we have the functionality to do that as well.

Next, we provide a summary, which is the percentage of each listening barrier represented in the group.

Finally, we provide anonymized reporting of each participant’s most significant listening struggle in aggregate report when there are 10 people or more.

In this release as well, we’ll be able to provide volume discounts for organizations based on their operating model, so there’ll be different discounts for an organization if it’s a commercial organization versus an organization that might be in the nonprofit sector.

Similarly, if you’re an external consultant, trainer, facilitator, leadership expert, we can assist with discounts there for you as well. If you are an organization or an external consultant who works with organizations and you’re curious to discover a little bit more, all this information is available at

In summary, those five updates are,

number one, aggregate reporting for 10 people or more.

Number two, cross-industry comparison.

Number three, reporting functionality for progress and completion.

Number four and number five, a variety of volume discounts, whether you’re an external consultant or inside an organization.

This is what I’ve discovered from 33,519 responses, yep, and I have read every single line on that spreadsheet. In fact, twice, channeling my inner Hugh Forrest from South by Southwest, who spends six weeks reading all their survey feedback from people who attend their conference.

Like Hugh, although there’s hundreds of pages of respondent data, when you lay it all out from 33,519 participants, distilling all of those into themes is what I’ve spent most of my time doing.

We’ve coded every response to the villains of listening and the five levels of listening as well, and the most significant insight from that question,

“What do you struggle with when it comes to listening?”

Is this 99.52% of participants describe what they struggle with at level 1, 2, or 3.

Said another way, half of 1% of people are struggling to listen at level 4, and at level 5, listening for the unsaid and listening for meaning.

I hypothesize that people just aren’t conscious that that exists, that that’s a possibility, that’s something worth reaching for.

The raw data is really simple. Level 1, 64.5% of people are stuck at listening to yourself. 31% of people are at level 2, where they’re struggling with what’s presented in the content, and about 4% of people are at level 3, listening for the context.

So with all that in mind, that’s why the content we create is specifically focused on level 1 and 2, and a little bit of 3 said another way.

Two-thirds of people say what’s getting in the way is them. It’s not focusing on the speaker, where they will improve. They’re listening but becoming present to themselves. This is the reason we dedicated two chapters rather than one in our book, how to listen. Focusing on Level 1 before, during, and after the meeting will have the biggest impact on the way you communicate in your workplace.

Now, listening before the meeting takes many forms, and a lot of people scratch their head, confused when I say you can listen before the meeting.

If you’re listening to yourself, that’s completely possible, and I’ll explain a way that you can listen to others before the meeting as well.

When it comes to listening before the meeting, let’s just focus on listening to yourself and thinking about creating space-time and creating the energy that you need to be present during a meeting.

Now, before the meeting, when you are trying to listen to them, you can ask the other person

“What will make this a good conversation?”,

or if it’s a group meeting, possibly you’d ask a variation and say,

“What will make this a productive meeting for you?”

How much of your listening focus happens before the meeting commences? As I went through those 33,519 rows, that was another thing we coded into our responses. 16% of the people who are struggling at level 1 are saying they’re struggling with something before the meeting commences, whether it’s remote meetings, their workload, their lack of time, the fact they say they have too many meetings. Each of these issues can be addressed by you before the meeting commences.

This data made me very curious about 84% of people who identified in-meeting barriers, and they use terms like focus, distraction, attention, and these represent about 58% of the in-meeting barriers, which could be anticipated even before the meeting commences.

Can you anticipate distractions during a meeting?

Before the meeting commences, you definitely can, and you can anticipate how you can react as a result. Although you may have a meeting in your schedule, that might be in your schedule from a week ago or a day ago.

Right now, when you’re having the meeting or about to have the meeting, ask yourself this question,

“Is it still the right time?

Is this meeting the right format?

Is the location or the length of the meeting appropriate to where me and others are at who are going to attend this meeting?”

You can change any dimension of the meeting before it starts to make sure your listening battery is charged and ready for the conversation. Maybe you need to reschedule the meeting. Maybe you need to move a video meeting to an audio only, or you could shorten the meeting length, or you could just adjust the meeting start time by starting at 5 or 10 minutes after the hour. Could you move a meeting that’s a seated meeting to a walking meeting?

Look, there are so many options that we outline in these reports to help you move forward with your listening.

When you take the quiz and get the report, we’ll outline some of these really practical tips to help you, particularly for those who are stuck at level 1. We want to get you up to level 2 as quickly as possible. There’s lots of options in your control.

Some, you may need to negotiate or renegotiate with other participants. Yet I speculate it’s worth trying to adjust before you commence a meeting rather than creating an unproductive, draining, or frustrating meeting for you and for the others.

One of the most impactful things I get feedback about is creating a pre-meeting ritual.

This could be something that we discuss during a workshop. It could be something that we discuss during a training course, and some of the examples that have been really productive for people is simply

drinking a glass of water,

playing music for 90 seconds,

noticing the pattern of your breathing,

choosing to stand up and walk for 90 seconds before the meeting commences.

All of these are signaling to your mind, your body, and you that this meeting requires you to give and to pay attention to maximize the time when you’re communicating with others. I’m very curious.

Do you have a ritual, a practice, or a technique you use to prepare for a meeting? Do you have a way to recharge your listening batteries?

Send me an email, podcast [AT] with the subject line, Before. That’s subject line, Before.

For the first five people who send me their pre-meeting rituals, I’ll send you a copy of the book, Supercommunicators: The Power of Conversation and the Hidden Language of Connection. This book is a refreshing change for books on communication because it does a great job of balancing the speaking and the listening throughout its chapters on communication.

I especially like the difference Charles, the author, calls out between switching questions and supporting questions when it comes to building rapport in first-time meetings. It’s definitely a book I recommend.

What’s the biggest insight from listening to 33,519 respondents in the survey? Is that two-thirds of you are struggling at level 1, and you want to make progress? And I hope some of these tips will help.

I’ve created some additional resources based not only on the survey feedback from the respondents, also based on feedback from the Deep Listening Ambassadors community as well as listeners to this podcast. I’ve created three additional resources that I think can help you make a difference.

The first, is I’ve set up where to begin. I got a lot of feedback about Oscar with over 120 episodes of the podcast. I’m not sure where to start. We’ve broken them up into three, where to start, the episodes of the podcast by the five levels of listening, and broken up by competency, 30 competencies based on the Korn Ferry Leadership model.

Let’s start at the beginning with where to start.

If you visit we’ve curated all the episodes and 15 other resources that are going to help you to improve the way you listen the fastest. So these 15 resources on the start page include the How to Listen book, two guides, a visual and video conferencing guide, two courses, the Fundamentals and the Managers Masterclass, 10 podcast episodes outlining the five levels of listening, the four barriers of listening, and an overview of the research and methodology we’re talking about. Finally, this resource,, is the final resource we recommend about where to start.

I’m very confident that these resources are now sequenced in a way that’ll make the biggest and fastest impact for the way you communicate at work. So if you want to start now, visit

Once you’ve completed everything on the start page, you can move to how the episodes are organized, and they’re organized by the five levels of listening. So if you visit you can find, each of the episodes have been marked with one or more of the five levels of listening.

In our final update, we introduce a competencies framework where we overlay the 120 podcast episodes over the Korn Ferry Leadership Competency Model, and we’ve mapped each episode of the podcast to one or more of the competency frameworks based at Don’t worry, you don’t have to write them down.

If you scroll through your podcast app, you’ll see them in the links in the show notes. Then that’s

When I spoke to leadership consultants, trainers, coaches, facilitators, or organizational leaders, whether they’re people and culture leaders, executive leaders, whether they’re learning and development consultants, or in-house trainers, they wanted to match it to something that was fairly well known in the market, and the common feedback was the Korn Ferry Leadership Architecture Competency Framework.

These competencies range from ensure accountability, communicates effectively, drive results, creates effective teams all the way to tech savvy, and 25 others in total. The Korn Ferry Leadership Architecture Competency Framework is the most robust and globally-orientated model.

Many of the clients I work with, more importantly, many of the clients that leadership consultants that I spoke to work with have clients who use this framework.

They use this framework to build their professional development plan. They use the framework if they’re figuring out if they should move roles, seeking a promotion internally within an organization, or being assessed to be ready for the most senior roles in their organizations. Or even if you want to change organizations, typical recruitment process may require you to go through an assessment center at an executive level, and the Korn Ferry Architecture is sitting behind that. I wanted to share three really simple examples of that so you can navigate the competencies against the podcast episodes we’ve created.

The three I’ve selected communicates effectively, manages complexity, and tech savvy.

For each of these, I’m going to start with the full Korn Ferry description, and then we’ll overlay some of the podcast episodes so you can join the dots.

When we think about communicates effectively, Korn Ferry describes communicates effectively as developing and delivering multimode communications that convey a clear understanding of the unique needs of different audiences. The questions they pose is, the communication you’re using using a variety of one-to-one small, large group, as well as diverse delivery styles? Do you listen attentively? Do you adjust to fit the audience? Do you provide timely and helpful information to others across your own organization? And do you encourage the open expression of ideas and opinions from others?

So as you can see, it’s a very extensive and thorough evaluation of what does communicate effectively mean.

Some of the episodes that are mapped to effective communication, episode 89 with Danish, who explains the what and the how of effective speaking in the workplace, where he discusses speaking speed, the use of pause, the use of emotion, and executive presence, as well as episode 92, where retired sergeant Kevin Briggs from San Francisco explains how he helped to listen to people when they were planning to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Let’s look at managing complexity.

Korn Ferry says, “Making sense of complex, high quantity, and sometimes contradictory information to effectively solve problems.” They wonder, “Do you ask the right questions to accurately analyse the situation? Do you collect the right kind of data from multiple and diverse sources to solve the problem? Do you look at the root cause on difficult problems rather than just the symptoms? Are you clear on evaluating risks and benefits of multiple solutions?”

In episode 46, the chief programming officer of South by Southwest, Hugh Forrest, epitomises not just managing complexity. He explains how to lead through and towards complexity. He’s dealing with content that hasn’t become mainstream. He’s looking at content for the next decade. Look, Hugh does a great job of balancing the present and the future presenters, audiences, the Austin community where the event is based, the multiple stakeholders, and the global audience. Here’s some numbers he needs to juggle. 74,000 attendees from over 100 countries, 3,000 media and press, 3,000 speakers at the event, over 1,500 conference sessions. Just one example of the economic impact that Hugh and South by Southwest has made in Austin is, during the last event, they booked 52,000 hotel nights in 68 hotels. That is managing complexity.

In the planning process, kicking off for the next year. There’s so many stakeholders that you need to think about. There’s the audience, there’s speakers, there’re sponsors, there’s staff, there’s the Austin community, there’s the broader community across the United States, and South by Southwest has a global impact. Talk us through how you prepare and what some of the techniques you use to listen to the audience for the current year, for example.

(25:52) Hugh Forrest
We spend, what I’d like to say is, an inordinate amount of time reading through user feedback from the previous year. There are many good reasons for doing that. You learn about the event from a completely different perspective than you had as an organizer. There are often things that you learn that were great, that you had no knowledge of. There are often things that you learn that didn’t go so well that you had no knowledge of, and that just reading this feedback gives you a much better perspective, much fuller perspective, and much more nuanced perspective of what was good and what needs improvement. I’ll also say that that process of reading feedback, of digesting feedback, of trying to understand feedback, of listing what your users and what your community is saying can be mentally, emotionally, spiritually exhausting.

It’s often not easy reading sharp criticisms of what you’ve done, particularly if you think you’ve done something incredibly great. But I think you try to have a generally positive attitude here and understand, it’s all part of the learning process and helps you get better. Throughout the most harsh criticisms and throughout the highest praise, whatever objective truth is, it’s somewhere in the middle, but again, helps you do that by reading this feedback. So we’ll spend six weeks reading feedback, trying to analyze that feedback, try to put that into some general themes and even more specific themes. By about late May, early June, we’re beginning to plan for the next year.

One of the big pieces in terms of planning for the next year is this South by Southwest PanelPicker interface that we’ve been using for approximately a decade. This is an interface where anyone in the community, which basically means anyone with a web connection, can enter a speaking proposal. It allows us to listen to what the community wants to get new ideas and new speakers into the event. But we’ll get somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 total ideas, speaking proposals for South by Southwest, of which probably about 1,000 of those will be accepted to the event. The other 4,000 are also, again, very, very useful in terms of trying to discern what our community wants to hear, what our community wants to learn about, that in our community is much more focused on learning the latest technologies or the newest ideas about blockchain. But again, this PanelPicker system is ultimately a way for us to communicate with our audience, for us to learn from our audience, for us to listen to our audience. I think it’s one of the many things that has helped us continue to improve as soon as possible.

(28:59) Oscar Trimboli
Finally, let’s look at tech savvy.

Tech savvy is described as anticipating and adopting innovations in business, building, digital, and other technologies. You anticipate the impact of emerging technologies and adjust. You scan the environment for new technical skills, knowledge, and capabilities to benefit you or the business. You don’t focus so much on the fads, and you’re happy to learn and adopt new technologies.

I was surprised when I categorized the episodes because I thought I’d struggled to find some relevant conversations. Yet there are five episodes discussing online, Zoom fatigue, AI, to name a few, two episodes on listening and artificial intelligence, one with Scott Sandland, where he’s discussing what age level of language does AI currently speak, and would you allow this teenager to go and have business discussions?

And Amy Brown, who discusses how artificial intelligence and listening is helping the leader she works with in healthcare to extract and hear a lot of information from contact centers that they can build into action plans very quickly.

One of my surprising favorites was Dr. Alison Barker.

She used machine learning to discover the language and dialect in laboratory rats to help her speed up her learning, as well as her ability to listen to the language they were using while she was undertaking experiments. So you can see there’s a very diverse perspective on what it means to apply technology in over 100 episodes. If you would like to look at your professional development plan and listen to a couple of podcasts aligned to a competency you’d like to improve, visit

There, you’ll see 30 different competencies mapped to each of the 120 plus episodes.

Now, whether you wanted to use a guided start listening at the levels or explore by competency, I’m certain that I’m bringing to you the most comprehensive workplace listening resources in the world, and all of that has been created because you’ve taken the time to listen to me.

I’m Oscar Trimboli, and along with the Deep Listening Ambassador community, we’re on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the workplace.

Thanks for listening.



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