Collaborative Conversations

March 5, 2015 11:10 am No Comments 0

Guest Blog: Allison O’Brien, Listening Impact

I meet people every day, everywhere I go. Within the first few minutes of any conversation the same question comes up: “What do you do?” Eyebrows furrow when I say I teach Listening Intelligence. Inevitably, that same person asks, “What is Listening Intelligence?” When I say that it’s a set of principals and practices that help organizations to harness the collective brainpower of every employee through improved listening skills, which in turn increases productivity, innovation, retention etc., Basically, I teach people to have better meetings. Inevitably their brow softens and they say, “My company needs that!”

At Listening Impact, before we begin any work inside of an organization we conduct interviews to get a better picture of the culture of the company and the challenges they face individually and at the organizational level. The feedback we consistently hear is that people are really frustrated with meetings; they’re too frequent, it’s the same meeting over and over, the same people dominate, they don’t feel heard, nothing ever gets accomplished and they’re generally a waste of time. If they could change one thing about their job it would be to have fewer meetings. I can’t think of a single organization that we’ve worked with that didn’t need better tools for more valuable, effective collaboration.

So, if meetings were productive and didn’t feel like a waste of time, would we look forward to them? What would a meeting look like that we were excited about and looking forward to? And what are the best, most productive and innovative collaborative teams doing that the rest of us need to know and use moving forward?

  • They use differences in thinking to create more value than waste.
  • They understand that there’s less value in everyone thinking alike than thinking differently.
  • When differences in thinking arise, team members are able to manage emotion and their own bio-reaction and lean in to learn from each other rather than defend their viewpoint and try to convince others why they’re right.
  • They willingly share their honest opinion even if it differs from the rest of the team.
  • There is no conflict between what they say or do in one situation versus another, i.e. they don’t agree to something in a meeting and return to their desk and say “that’ll never work.”

People want to feel heard, and they want to contribute. They want to be able to buy-in and fully commit to the work they’re doing and know that they make a difference. In a Listening Intelligent environment, the viewpoint of others has equal weight and merit to the one we hold ourselves. We understand that the collective brainpower of our team is so much greater than what we can accomplish on our own. When we really hold true to this belief, and have a strong desire to create more value in the work we do, when differences in thinking arise, we shift our listening to learn from the people we are engaged with. We ask questions to gain greater understanding of the perspective of others. We are curious as to what is important to them and what they’re concerned about. When we have collectively mastered Listening Intelligence, when we feel really connected to our own idea and viewpoint and are inclined to defend it and destroy the opinions of others, we recognize this is happening, and know that we need to shift and engage the rest of our team to gain the most information to create the best possible outcome.

As a team member of the Colorado Nonprofit Social Enterprise Exchange, I have the opportunity to witness this in action every month; and this month it seemed that groups were engaged in more collaboration than in the two previous sessions. I observed amazing effort and commitment to the process and such respectful collaboration. Sometimes the interactions were so respectful that I wondered whether all team members were sharing their true opinions or whether they were trying to get along. It’s always more comfortable to have conversations where we all agree and think alike, but the opportunity for innovation is stifled if we can’t share our differences and use them to generate new and exciting ideas that didn’t exist previously.

I was really struck to by one team in particular. The team members clearly had different ideas and opinions but used them to be smarter together than separately. When it was clear that they weren’t in agreement, rather than digging in their heels, they used it as an opportunity to dive deeper, get more curious and learn from each other. I heard them ask each other questions like, “Can you tell me more about that?” and “What was it that lead you to that thinking?” “What else?” and, “What can we do to learn more about that?”

What commitment will you make to bring the greatest value to your next collaborative opportunity? What can you do differently to be smarter together, as a team, than you would be individually?

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