Building Higher Trust 9 Trust and Communication

February 13, 2021

Communication is one of the most foundational skills in any organization. Leaders spend a lot of time communicating with people in their organization, yet when workers are asked what the most significant blockage is to motivation, most groups report that communication is the biggest problem.

In this brief article I will explore the relationship between how well communication works in a high trust environment versus a low trust environment.

When Trust is Low

Even in a world where everyone is physically in one place, communication becomes chancy if there is low trust. People tend to hear what they believe the leader is trying to say rather than what was actually said. It is so easy to get the wrong flavor of a message, and the real damage is done because the leader often does not know that his or her message was misinterpreted.

When Trust is High

When Trust is high, people have an easy time hearing the real message and interpreting it accurately. In these cases, the leader can tell by the body language whether the workers have absorbed the true meaning. This is true both in person and virtually.
With high trust, people will not feel intimidated if they are unclear about the real message. They will feel free to ask a question for clarification because there is psychological safety, and they know a legitimate question will not lead to them feeling punished.

Working Remotely

The issue of accurate and believable communication is amplified significantly when we have a hybrid workforce where some people are working in the office but others are working remotely, sometimes even in another country, where time zone and cultural issues can exacerbate the problem. It is so easy to have the remote workers feel at least inconvenienced or at worst left completely out of the tight communication loop.

That is why it is imperative that all leaders redouble their efforts to communicate as much or more with the remote people as they do with the people close at hand. Try to beat down the “us versus them” issues that result in silo thinking.

Conclusion

When trust is low, communication is going to be chancy and difficult to control. This is true for all types of communication, including electronic communication. When trust is high, there is a much better chance for robust and acceptable communication. Trust becomes a significant enabler of effective and timely communication.


Bonus Video

Here is a brief video on Trust and Communication.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Leadership Barometer 80 Lowers Credibility Gap

February 10, 2021

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Lowers Credibility Gap

In any organization, credibility gaps exist between layers. These gaps lower the trust within the organization and make good communication more difficult. The credibility gaps may exist for a number of different reasons. I will share a few common examples for clarity, but recognize there can be hundreds of different causes for the gaps.

1. Managers may believe most of the workers are not working up to capacity in order to have an easier time. The manager perceives a lack of dedication by the lower-level workers.

2. Workers may not trust the managers because they believe the managers are insincere or really just don’t care about the workers. They are in it just to make more money.

3. Non-local workers, or those working remotely, may believe the people at the main office have built-in advantages and perks.

4. People may think they are not being given the full set of information and that some vital points have not been shared, like a potential plant shutdown.

5. Gaps in communication between on-site and remote staff can create mistrust.

Fill in the Gaps

Great leaders have a knack for lowering these gaps, first by recognizing their existence, and second, by filling in believable information in both directions, up and down the hierarchy.

These gaps form much more easily in an environment where some people are working remotely, so extra care must be extended during those interactions. The cure is to increase communication with people when they are working remotely.

When there is tension between one layer and another, great leaders work to find out the root cause of the disconnect. It could be a nasty rumor, it could be based on a prior breach of trust, it might be an impending reorganization or merger, it could be due to an outside force like a new government restriction. Whatever the root cause will determine how the gap can be eliminated.

Conclusion

Excellent leaders take steps to reduce the problem while the gap is a small crack and before it becomes like the Grand Canyon. They help people breach the divide by getting the two levels to communicate and really negotiate a better position. Weak leaders are more like victims who wait until the battle is raging and the chasm is too broad to cross without a major investment in some kind of bridge.




Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations


Talent Development 25 Organizational Development Strategy

February 8, 2021

Section 3.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Organization Development and Culture. Section A reads, “Skill in designing and implementing organizational development strategy.”

I will share my process for helping organizations establish a constructive pathway for organizational development. The process always starts with knowledge of the organization.

Research

You must be intimately familiar with the needs, desires, purpose, vision, mission, and values of the organization before starting to craft a successful OD effort.

Going in with a standardized or cookie-cutter approach may allow you to make some progress, but the end result will be far off the mark from one that is totally customized for this particular application.

Start by talking with people in the organization. For sure, you want to interview the top leaders and managers to get their ideas. You also want to interview several people at different levels in the organization, because the view at lower levels may be significantly different from that at the top.

Obtain any extant data that is available, such as employee quality of work-life surveys, grievance data, turnover stats by area, blockage surveys, and other data. These data are usually collected by the Human Resources Staff.

Collect Additional Data

You need more specific data before starting to design an OD program. There are many commercially available surveys you can use for this purpose. I prefer some instruments that I have developed over the years that allow me to assess what topics have the greatest need in this particular group.

The one I use most often is what I call the “Analysis of Leadership Training Needs.” This instrument is a broad look at what specific training modules would be most helpful for this particular population. A total of 56 different skill areas are on the survey, and each individual gives all of the skills a score of 0-3. Zero means there is no need for training on that skill. Three means there is an urgent need for training on that skill.

I have a suite of ten different surveys that I use depending on the data generated in the interviews. For example, if there is an issue with ethics in this organization, I have an instrument that will measure what types of skills need work.
If the group might be considering a merger or acquisition, I have an instrument that measures readiness for that. These assessments can be accessed on my home page www.leadergrow.com under “Services.”

Design Phase

Once the data phase is complete, it is time to start the design phase. You will need to select not only the topics to cover, but also the OD methods to use. In general OD activities fall into four categories. (There are others, but they are usually combinations of these four.)

1. Action Search
2. Appreciative Inquiry
3. Future Search
4. Whole System Intervention

Although the objective of each of these methods is the same, the viewpoint and methodology for each is different. I will give my personal views of the strengths and problems with each method from my experience. All of these can work. The trick is to match the leadership style and organization culture so that the one selected has the best chance of success in a particular case.

Action Search

Most organizations contemplating an OD initiative, do so because they are not satisfied with how things are going. If the current trajectory of business is meeting or exceeding goals, there is little impetus for change. The Action Search approach takes on a somewhat negative spin from the outset. The idea is to determine what is wrong and fix it quickly.

Appreciative Inquiry

This approach is the mirror image of the “action research” technique. The process starts by asking what is working well. Groups focus on what is going right rather than what is going wrong. The idea is to find ways of doing more of the right things, thus providing less reinforcement for doing the wrong things.

Future Search

In this process, the focus is on the vision rather than the current state. The idea is to get groups engaged in defining a compelling view of the future. When compared to the present, this allows clarification of the gaps between current practices and organizational goals. Outstanding vision is the most powerful force for all individuals and organizations.

Whole System Intervention

This is a kind of zero-based approach to OD. In this case, the activities of the organization are viewed through a “systems” approach. The emphasis is on getting a critical mass within the organization to redefine the business. Processes become the focal point for redesign efforts. This approach is less threatening than the action research technique because of focuses on the “what” and “how” rather than the “who.”

It is always best to work with a skilled facilitator whenever doing any form of Organization Development. Groups that try to navigate these choppy waters without the help of an experienced sea captain often end up in a bigger mess than when they started.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Building Higher Trust 8 Trust and Focus

February 3, 2021

It is quite easy to determine the level of trust within a group simply by observing what the people in the group focus on most of the time.

High Trust Groups

I have observed that very high trust groups spend the majority of their time and energy on what they are trying to accomplish. Maybe it is because high trust groups have an exciting vision they are pursuing.

Let’s say the group is coming out with a new product. If you listen to the conversations members of the group are having, they are going to be centered on the new product. That is what they are trying to accomplish.

If they are trying to accomplish better customer service, then that dynamic will dominate the conversations.

Whatever the vision is will be the main topic of discussion, and people will do very little griping because they have good feelings about the other people in their group. Those good feelings and affection tend to raise the level of trust even higher.

Low Trust Groups

By contrast, people who work in low trust groups seem to focus their energy on each other. They are myopic and talk about the problems they are having getting along.

You might hear one person complain that another person spends too much time on the phone or is frequently late to Zoom meetings. You may hear people that are stationed in different countries complain that the time zone differences make life very difficult for their families.

The focus becomes “how can I protect my own interests from these other people who have their own agendas.” The conversations become mostly negative and often are hurtful.

That dynamic tends to perpetuate the lower trust atmosphere, so it becomes a vicious cycle of negativity.

Conclusion

Listen to the conversations that are happening in your organization and see whether they demonstrate low or high trust. It will be an accurate indication of the current level of trust inside your organization.

Bonus Video

Here is a brief video on Trust and Focus.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations



Talent Development 20 Measuring Engagement

December 19, 2020

Section 3.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Organization Development & Culture. Section E reads, “Skill in assessing and evaluating employee engagement.”

I have seen dozens of instruments that purport to measure employee engagement. Some of these are simple 10 question surveys, and others are complex blockage surveys that try to identify what is getting in the way of full engagement.

Defining Engagement

We need to start with the definition of engagement. There are entire books that attempt to describe engagement and how to increase it.

I like the simple approach with the following definition: “To what extent do all people in the group understand the vision for an ideal future state, and how focused is their energy on achieving that vision”?

You can make it more complex than that, but I don’t think that is necessary.

If you buy into my theory, there is a very simple test that will allow you to find out how engaged any group is. It takes only a few minutes, and you do not need to have a complex survey instrument to do it.

Measure Engagement Directly

Take a three by five card and walk around listening to what people are talking about. If you hear someone griping about working conditions or what an idiot the person at the next work station is, put a hash mark on the left side of the card and walk on.

When you hear someone talking about something that relates to what the group is trying to accomplish, then put a hash mark on the right side of the card and continue walking.

In only half an hour or less you will begin to see a pattern emerge on the card.

If the left side of the card is littered with hash marks and only a few or none on the right side, then the group is not engaged.

On the other hand, if most of the hash marks are on the right side of the card, it is an indication of a highly engaged group.

This System Also Tests for Trust

This method also works to measure the level of trust within a group. If most people are focused on the vision and the important work to be done, then it is an indication of a high trust group.

If most people are myopic and focused in on each other and protecting their turf, then it is an indication of a low trust group.

I hope you can appreciate the correlation between trust and engagement. When you find a group that has high trust in all directions, I promise that you will find a highly engaged group of workers.

The relationship is as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.



Leadership Barometer 74 Emulate Level 5 Leaders

December 13, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Emulate Level 5 Leaders

Jim Collins and his staff of MBA researchers did the business world a huge favor in 2001 when they wrote the book Good to Great. I consider that book one of the best business books of the past twenty years.

In looking at why some organizations consistently outperform others; the team came up with a model containing many new concepts.

None of the concepts were totally unheard of before, but the model packaged the concepts in a coherent process-oriented thesis that was, and still is, most helpful.

In case you have not read this book, I recommend it to be purchased, read, dog-eared, and put into active practice – not on the shelf.

The concept of level 5 leadership is one of the core elements in the book. Collins found that all of the organizations that met his rigorous standard for excellence at that time were headed up by exceptional leaders.

It is interesting that after studying hundreds of variables about what make these leaders so effective, they were able to boil them down to two common denominators. These were 1) a passion for the work, and 2) humility.

Level 5 Leaders are fanatically driven to produce results, and they produce consistently superior results. Self-effacing and modest, these leaders are workers rather than showoffs. They are more “plow horse” than “show horse.”

Window/ Mirror Analogy

An example of Level 5 Leaders in action is the window/mirror analogy. Level 5 Leaders look out the window and attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they see the window as a mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.

In comparison, many CEOs, not Level 5 Leaders, often do just the opposite – they look in the mirror taking credit for success, but look out the window assigning blame for disappointing results to others.

These actions help to increase the level of trust within the organization. They provide a culture of safety and security in which trust will grow spontaneously.

I believe there are very few level 5 leaders in the world today. If you happen to work for someone you can describe to that standard you are truly lucky. Study that person and see if you can recruit him or her as your mentor.

It will improve your rate of progress as a leader by 2-3 times your current rate. If you do not know of anyone who rises to that standard, the best you can do is read some of the biographies of leaders outlined in Good to Great. It will give you some specific habits of these outstanding leaders.



Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.



Building Higher Trust 2 Trust is Everywhere

December 5, 2020

The word Ubiquitous means “everywhere at the same time.” It comes from the Latin root ubiq, which means everywhere. It was originally a theological expression used to describe the omnipresence of Christ.

I maintain that trust is ubiquitous, because it is all around us every day, like the air we breathe.

Trust is manifest in all aspects of life, not just in our relations with other people. We normally think of trust as between our self and other people, but consider any product that you use and recognize that you have a relationship of trust to some degree, or you would not use it.

In the pills you take

For example, you cannot take an aspirin if you do not trust the company that made it and the store that sold it to you.

In the car you drive

When you get in your car in the morning and turn on the ignition, there are thousands of explosions going on within the engine, but you are not thinking about that unless the “check engine” light comes on. When you come to a red light you step on the brake and the car stops. The only time you think about it is when the brakes squeak or otherwise let you know they need attention.

In your personal routines

You walk into the bathroom in the morning and flip the switch. The lights go on. You turn on the spigot and both hot and cold water come out. You turn on the TV and the news comes on. You just expect these things to work, so there is no recognition of anything going on unless for some reason the lights do not go on.

You pour yourself some cereal and get out the milk. You are not conscious of any trust validation going on. You just expect things to be OK unless you neglected to check the dating on the carton of milk.

On your way to your destination

You drive along and follow the traffic rules. You have no worry that other people will fail to follow the rules (at least most of the time).

You drive over a bridge without worrying about it falling into the river (except there are probably some bridges where you should worry, at least a little bit.)

Trust is ubiquitous

I contend that by the time you have yourself up and going in the morning, you have experienced trust several hundred times, but you don’t think about it unless there is some kind of failure. Trust is all around us every single day, but in our conscious thoughts it is the trust we have between individuals that draws nearly all of our attention.

Bonus Video

Here is a link to a three-minute video on this topic.



Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Leadership Barometer 73 Negotiate Well

December 1, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Negotiate Well

All leaders exist in a kind of sandwich. They report to someone at a higher level and also supervise other people at lower levels in the organization. Great leaders are experts at negotiating the needs of both groups.

They interpret the needs of the organization from above to the people below in a way that makes most of them understand and appreciate the policies of the larger group.

Simultaneously, great leaders advocate well for the needs of individuals reporting to them to levels above in the organization. It is this give and take role that requires constant attention and skill at negotiating well.

Learning to Negotiate

Effective negotiating is a science. You can take graduate level courses on this topic, or there are numerous books and seminars outlining the various stratagems.

You can study the tactics and countermeasures for months and still not be very skilled at negotiating well.

The most important ingredient for effective negotiating within an organization is credibility. Leaders who are believable to their people and to upper management have more success at negotiating needs in both directions effectively.

So, how does a leader become credible? Here are some tips that can help. (I apologize in advance for all the clichés in this list. I decided that using the vernacular is the best way to convey this information succinctly.)

1. Be consistent – people need to know what you stand for, and you need to communicate your own values clearly.


2. Show respect for opinions contrary to yours – other opinions may be as valid as yours, and you can frequently find a common middle ground for win-win solutions. This avoids unnecessary acrimony.


3. Shoot straight –speak your truth plainly and without a lot of spin. Get a reputation for telling the unvarnished truth, but do it with compassion. Do not try to snow people – people at all levels have the ability to smell BS very quickly.


4. Listen more than you talk – keep that ratio as much as possible because you are not the fountain of all knowledge. You just might learn something important.


5. Be open and transparent – share as much information as you can. However, be careful to not divulge too much information too soon.


6. Get your facts right – don’t get emotional and bring in a lot of half truths to the argument.


7. Don’t be fooled by the vocal minority – make sure you test to find out if what you are hearing is really shared broadly. Often there are one or two individuals who like to speak for the whole group, and yet they may not share the sentiments of everyone.


8. Don’t panic – there are “Chicken Littles” who go around shouting “The sky is falling” every day. It gets tiresome, and people tune you out eventually.


9. Ask a lot of questions – Socratic and hypothetical questions are more effective methods of negotiating points than making absolute statements of your position.


10. Admit when you are wrong – sometimes you will be.


11. Know when to back off –pressing a losing point to the point of exhaustion is not a good strategy.


12. Give other people the most credit – often the smart thing to do is not claim victory, even if you are victorious.


13. Keep your powder dry for future encounters – there is rarely a final battle in organizations, so don’t burn bridges behind you.


14. Smile – be gracious and courteous always. If you act like a friend, it is hard for people to view you as an enemy.



These are some of the rules to build credibility. If you are familiar with these and practice them regularly, you are probably very effective at negotiating within your organization. Once you are highly credible, the tactics and countermeasures of conventional negotiating are more effective.





Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Building Higher Trust 1 A New Series

November 24, 2020

Having just completed a series of 100 articles on Body Language, it is time for me to start a new series of fresh content on my favorite subject: TRUST. I will write on all aspects of trust as I have come to know it.

About 30 years ago, I came to the conclusion that trust is the “golden key” to great leadership. We know it when we experience trust, but it is a bit elusive when we try to define it with precision. I intend to take the mystery out of the topic and discuss numerous aspects of trust and how they relate to leadership.

I will be covering:

1. The nature of trust in many dimensions
2. How leaders can obtain more trust consistently
3. How they can maintain and build higher trust over time
4. How they can leverage trust to improve performance in all dimensions of business
5. How they can repair damaged trust
6. How they can teach other leaders how to create a culture of higher trust

While the bulk of content in this series will be slanted toward business settings, the points and techniques will be equally valid for social groups, families, church congregations, university settings, hospital staffs, legal offices, and any other setting where human beings interact.

Layout of articles

I will do more than simply describe the content; I will give specific examples from my personal experience and suggest exercises you can do to increase your skills at building higher trust. As always, I invite dialog through comments to this blog or on my website.  For each article, I will include a Bonus Video that goes along with the content of that particular article. These videos are all very brief (less than 3 minutes).

An exercise for you

As a first exercise in this series, try to recall a time when you experienced a feeling of high trust. Recall the details of what was going on and how you experienced great security in that moment. Now go back and recall a time when there was a serious trust violation in your life. Recall the empty feeling of being let down. Were you able to rebuild the trust, or was it the end of that relationship? Later in this series I will deal with ways to repair damaged trust.

How trust works

In an organization, I think of trust as the lubricant that allows everything to work as it was intended. Without trust, we get friction and heat between people. In this series, we will focus on these aspects of trust and what specific thought patterns and behaviors that result in building higher trust over time.

Benefits for you

It does not matter what your position is; you can benefit from reading this series because it will help your life run much better. If you are a leader (and I contend that we are all leaders at some point: think about leading yourself) this series will be extremely valuable in that it will reveal many aspects of trust that you may not have been aware of that will enrich the quality of your life.

Bonus Video

Link to video of “Leadership and Trust”





Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Leadership Barometer 72 Listens Deeply

November 21, 2020

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Listens Deeply

It is said that managers have the worst hearing in the world. Many employees lament that trying to talk to the boss is like trying to reason with a rock. Yet most managers would put “listening skills” as one of their stronger traits. How come there is often such a wide gap between perception and reality? I believe leaders do not recognize that listening is a very complicated and multi-step process that starts in the mind of the speaker. Here are the steps.

1. Speaker’s mind has a thought
2. Speaker translates the thought into words
3. Speaker says the words
4. Words are conveyed to the ear of the listener
5. Words are heard or not heard as sent
6. Tone of voice and body language of the speaker are factored in
7. The message that was heard is translated into thought
8. The thought is translated into the listener’s mind

If any one of those eight elements is corrupted in any way, then the message has not been received accurately. Of those eight steps, which ones cause the most trouble in communication? It is steps 5 and 6. Reason: While most people are “listening” they are actually occupying their mind preparing to speak. So what actually enters the ear is not what the listener actually believes has been said.

The interpretation of the tone of voice and body language is a huge area of miscommunication. With a slight movement of the eyebrows, mouth or a tilt of the head, the meaning of the entire message can be misinterpreted.

Why the problem happens

The culprit here is that we have a disconnect between how fast a person can talk versus how fast we can think. We can think many times faster then we can talk, so the brain has excess time to process other things while waiting for the words to arrive.

We actually multi-task, and our thoughts zoom in and out of the stream of words heading toward our ears. We believe that we have caught all of the content, but in reality we only grasp part of it because we are occupied thinking up our response or trying to interpret why the speakers pupils were dilated.

The best defense for poor listening habits is what is called “reflective listening” or sometimes called “active listening.” This is where we force our brain to slow down and focus on the incoming words in order to give the speaker visual and verbal cues that we really understood the message.

The art of reflective listening is an acquired skill, and it takes a lot of practice and effort to be good at it. If you doubt that, just try listening to someone for 5 minutes straight and concentrate on absorbing every word such that you can reflect small parts of the conversation throughout the 5 minutes. It is exhausting.

For leaders, the need for listening is even more of a challenge. We have to not only hear and interpret the words, we have to understand the full meaning. This means not only must we take in the verbal input but also properly interpret the vast amount of body language that comes along with it. Since there is more meaning in body language than in words, it makes listening an even more daunting task.

Most leaders do not take the time and energy to internalize what is being conveyed to them because they are so preoccupied with getting their message out to others. This leaves them totally vulnerable to misunderstandings that cripple the ability to build trust.

When you add the ego response which most leaders have an ample supply of, it is no wonder employees feel they are not being heard. James O’Toole had a great line for this in the book Transparency. He said, “…it is often the presence of excessive amounts of testosterone that leads to a loss of hearing.”



Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.