As a general rule, I don’t have much time for management consultants.
I’d been put off by a guy when I was running a customer service department who told me the answers to my problems when tendering for the work. How did he know? I’d worked there for 2-years and couldn’t see them.
You see similar things happening every day.
Some years ago I was working with a senior manager and wanted him to see what was happening at grass-roots in his business. The messages he received were distorted – coming up the chain – and he hadn’t realised it. He was spending most days running projects and sitting in meetings.
‘Go into your contact centre, speak to some staff…. then listen.’
He found it very difficult. He interrupted staff as they were giving their views; explaining that senior management had already assessed the ideas…but there was this or that reason it wouldn’t work.
Staff probably learnt more about the workings of the senior management team from him in the sessions than the other way round.
Tom Peters asks ‘are you an 18-second manager?’ He uses the example of a doctor speaking to a patient. The best source of evidence on what is wrong with a patient is what the patient says themselves. Research shows that doctors routinely interrupt patients’ 18-seconds in. They assume and don’t listen.
It’s the same in business. Day in, day out managers interrupt, assume and don’t listen to the people who know.
It’s no wonder that in staff surveys the biggest gripes are: our views aren’t taken into consideration, we are not part of the decision-making process round here and managers don’t know what is going on.
Good management consultants have well developed listening skills because they have to ‘scoop’ the story out bit by bit. Chances are if you end up unclear the only thing to do is to ask again and keep asking – and then listen.
Interestingly, when giving presentations to senior management teams, they’re always interested when you get onto what’s happening at grass-roots level (they’re normally playing with their smart phones when you’re discussing the strategy or IT roadmap).
Tom goes on to say the following:
‘Stop – Quit bloody interrupting – this means YOU (and me) – practice, seek feedback, give feedback after every interaction, use meeting videos to observe yourself – work as a group on this.’ (‘The Little Big Things’).
There are lots of books on listening – but it’s hardly ever identified as a core skill, development area or a topic for a company training course.
Managers and consultants could do a lot worse than read Nancy Kline’s great books ‘Time to Think’ and ‘More Time to Think’ to really get to grips with how to listen properly.