If you are a leader, you are in the relationship business. Whether a colleague, client, vendor, front-line worker, or networking connection, you interact with people every day. If, in your interactions, you are mindful about making a human connection, you will establish the foundation for a positive, beneficial relationship. A key to making that connection is listening—and listening takes practice.
Edgar Schein refers to Humble Inquiry as asking questions from an attitude of genuine curiosity and interest about the other person. In this post, we will focus on the listening part of Humble Inquiry. We call it “curious listening.” This type of listening is more than just hearing or being attentive and it is not the kind of listening where you expect to gain knowledge. It is a higher level of listening that Otto Scharmer describes as “seeing from our deepest source” and what Daniel Goleman refers to as “emotional empathy.”
The aim of curious listening is not about what we hear, per se; it is about the other person feeling valued.
If leaders approach an interaction with the mindset that the conversation is worthwhile, then the other person will feel “listened to” and a connection is made.
Preparing to Listen: Mindful Mindsets
Prepare for curious listening by taking the time to stop, slow down, and consider the following mindsets (or mantras, if you will):
- This person is worth listening to
- I don’t know how this conversation is going to unfold, but I want to connect with this person
- I will listen for who they are and what they are about
- I will be curious about what they say
- I will try to sense their perspectives, feelings, actions, and desires
How to Get Better at Curious Listening
Perfecting the skill of curious listening takes time and it takes active energy. Practice by being intentional about the following DOs & DON’Ts:
- ignore your internal noise and thoughts
- listen to the other person’s words and their impact on you
- sense how the other person is feeling
- formulate a response in your mind
- think about advice, opinions, or solutions
- silently judge or criticize the person or what they are saying
- feel the need to memorize anything they say
Questions to Deepen Thinking
What would happen to your interactions if you focused on curiosity and did not think ahead about your response?
What will you get if you try this script the next time you interact with someone? “Hmm… Tell me more!”
What are the consequences of not truly listening to the people you interact with?
Brady, M. (Ed.). (2003). The wisdom of listening. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Goleman, D. (2013, December). The Focused Leader:How effective executives direct their own – and their organization’s – attention. Harvard Business Review.
Scharmer, O. Theory U. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from Presencing Institute: https://www.presencing.com/theoryu#sthash.FJ1oQJk3.dpuf
Schein, E. (2013). Humble inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
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