Some of you may have heard this statement before ‘Life is Relationship’ and the more we understand this, the better we can potentially live our lives. The initial idea that we are social beings created for community living suggests that we are meant to be in relationship to someone or even something. This creates the idea of mutual respect for our surroundings and the people who inhabit the surroundings with us. Respect then brings about the need for us to be accountable to each other and it is then, when we think about it that we actually all need each other for existence or a least a better understanding of the African principle of Ubuntu. Ubuntu suggests that we cannot exist without others and that I am only me because of you.
Yes I am me because of the influences in my life, from the day I was born until where I find myself at this point of my life. I am the sum total of every influence and the experiences I have had so far, these experiences have either caused me joy or pain, and in some cases I have even numbed myself to the pain I experience or perceive I could experience.
Start thinking about your relationships; the relationships you have with your partner, your children, your friends and the colleagues at work. What questions do we ask them and what are the topics of that question? Just because our partners ask how our day was and we often just respond ‘fine” does not mean that we need to ask the same questions. If we are to be effective we need to ask questions that follow on from what we already know or they need to be disruptive.
Disruption is the art of evoking a true emotional response so as to get a different outcome from what either the person giving you the response expects to give and especially receiving a different response from what you as the recipient has expected. When this happens disruption has taken place.
Disruption is needed to change our thinking from old paradigms, experience our own selves in a different way and to open to new possibilities. The danger is that we will slip back into the same old rut as soon as the emotion passes, therefore it is imperative that the ‘time of disruption’ is used effectively.
If the above gave you some idea of what disruption is, then how do we disrupt and what is your idea of what a disruptor is? Is a disruptor a rebel or a nonconformist? Could we agree that a disruptor may challenge the status quo or lead a social movement that would shake the foundations of what we have been taught to be the only way or in other words our belief. It is this belief system that rejects the new ideas and keeps us believing and defending this belief.
Who are disruptors and what do disruptors do? Think back to the original statement in this article that ‘life is relationship’. What are the disruptors in our relationships and for that matter what disrupts our normal day to day lives? We may think it is everything, but it is actually simpler than that … yes in fact very simple and so obvious. The disruptors we encounter on a daily basis are simply questions. We think everything is running along just fine until someone is bold enough to ask a question. A disruptor is anyone who asks a question that makes us feel uncomfortable and therefore we are all capable of disrupting anything we choose to think about and ask the right question that evokes an emotional response causing the person to give us a reaction that was never expected. What I mean by never expected is that the answer was not predictable and possibly the answer even astounded the person responding.
These are typically question that notice that we have not been accountable when we were expected to be accountable, the question questions this fact and causes us to try and squirm out of our situation.
However we don’t know how to ask the right questions and if this is the case, we simply irritate the person instead of getting an answer. Most people pretend to listen, instead of listening they are listening to their own thinking and when speaking they are trying to manipulate you into thinking there way.
To make this article more digestible I have chosen to recognise that listening is the key, the better we listen the more effective our questions can be, so lets look at …
The ART of Listening
When we say we listen, are we listening to engage or are we listening to understand? Let’s look at the difference between the two:
Listening to Engage is typical of what a salesperson would do and in today’s more emotionally connected world, we may even say that is what a bad salesperson does. They will listen until they hear a need that they can potentially fulfil and then literally pounce on you and direct your thoughts towards the product or solution they have for you. Now many would say that you should not waste time and the sale is important. Then the question must be asked, who is the sale important to? If the sale was only important to the salesperson and the company selling the product or service then we missed something.
People have a very basic need and that need is recognition. Many people will never be recognised for what they accomplish in life, and sadly some have even accepted that fact. However the recognition that they are looking for is a lot simpler and something that they will not easily accept if they do not receive it – that need is simply to be heard, cared for and loved.
Listening to Understand is often the only way of showing people they are special and that you care for them. But you are thinking ‘wow’, but what has this got to do with leadership, selling or what I do on a day-to-day basis? My answer is simply everything … If you are unable to connect with people to the point that they can trust you, they will not follow you as a leader or give you the opportunity to serve them as a leader (or as a salesperson for that matter). These are the basics of relationship and trust will only be sustainable in the safety of a relationship.
By listening to people so that we understand them, shows that we care and starts to build a relationship which sustains the trust. Somehow this does not seem obvious and we need to ask why would we want to go to so much effort to establish this trust? And our question would be totally valid.
I can only trust you if I know you have got my back!
If we don’t listen to understand we will never hear what the insecurities of others are and we will probably never understand our own insecurities either – yes we all have insecurities. It is our task to show people we care, not so that we can blatantly manipulate them into using our product or service, but rather by listening and trying to understand them where they are at. This is listening with empathy and we will understand what their insecurities are, what their real needs are and we will be able to tailor make solutions that suit them so that a win win situation arises for everybody.
Of course this is a challenge, but then who told us that life would be without challenges. The difference in this scenario is that we will actually be making a difference in the lives of others when we take up this challenge and not just make a difference to our material worlds.
Listening is the ultimate challenge, because it is always about them and never about us. Will you be able to listen so that you discover the questions that need to be asked? Will you be able to discover the changes that need to be made? It comes down to …
The more ideas you have, the more you will stimulate your own thinking and the thinking of all the people you come into contact with. The real key is to always be on the look-out for ideas – new and old. These ideas may be the opinion of others, news happening around the world, a novel you read that stimulated your imagination or even some gossip (if you can keep yourself objective and avoid the emotion). The main activity for yourself, with any idea, is can you think and ask yourself Why? When you are able to ask the real ‘Why’ questions, you will get more from the ideas, and you will be more effective in relationships and leadership as you will have a better idea of what drives human behaviour.
The key is ‘Strategic Listening’ but what is it?
Listening is 80% of our success. Therefore we can be more strategic in our listening by:
- Listening to understand as opposed to listening to respond.
- Listening will create great alliances, as when we listen we are actually showing we care and this will develop the trust needed for great relationships.
- Remember the person speaking is trusting you with their thoughts; always respect this fact and never do anything to break that trust.
- Be aware of the things that are not being said, ask yourself why the person has a need to tell you what they are telling you.
- Ask non judgemental questions that will encourage more conversation – ask the person to tell you how they felt and ask them to share the reactions of other people in the moment too.
- Before you ask a question, ask yourself if you know the answer to your question (you probably do, as we tend to ask novice questions in the beginning); if you know the answer, then structure your question around asking for more understanding of what they have just said. Remember – don’t let your questions be judgemental.
- Listen especially for words that are out of context, but don’t react to these words – just make a mental note so that you can ponder the answer later.
- The less you can say, the more you will hear; and as you practice this listening skill, you will become more strategic with your listening.
Listening is a skill, but certainly a skill we can learn if we are actually willing to listen. The questions we ask are critical to our success and the success of others – will we be able to ask the right question at the right time? Again the right question is always the disruptive question.
How do we begin to ask better questions? Listening is the key to asking questions that will disrupt the thoughts of others. What have they said, do you understand what they have said or do you need to ask more questions to gain clarity? What have they not said? … Ask yourself why they have not said, what you thought they would say and question the possibility of what they have not said. Remember don’t ask judgemental questions, be empathetic and allow the other person to realise you have noticed them. This process will disrupt their thoughts and cause them to think deeper about what they have been saying. Real communication exists at the point where we are able to disrupt superficial thinking, so that others may begin to think about why, how and what they have said.
Simply by listening you will be noticing and showing the other person you care, trust will develop quicker and you may have just gained a real friend for life. Every moment we have is precious – use your moments wisely.
The Three Questions we should all be asking …
Seth Godin gives us this set of blueprint-questions about gaining attention and relevance:
Who are you challenging or disrupting??
Whose apple cart are you upsetting? If you’re following the rules just like everyone else, you will need to understand that this means you are just like everyone else. Thus if you are looking for attention and relevance, you will need to make some new, status quo-challenging decisions and changes if your desire is to be a leader.
Who are you connecting with?
Find your passion, and you’ve discovered your purpose.
Once you’ve discovered your passion and you’ve challenged/disrupted some (or many!) people, ask: Who am I connecting with? Secure and build on the relationships by making them feel important. People have a deep need to feel missed in their absence — confirming they do indeed belong.
Your job then, as a leader, is to connect with them effectively and then tell them you miss them when they don’t show up and participate.
Who are you leading?
Know the people you are serving.
Through your conversations, connections and communications with those who follow you, you will be able to pick up on their needs in detail if you listen with intention. In turn, they will respond to the feeling of being listened to you by giving you the relevant attention and relevance.
People are waiting for you to show up in your uniqueness and show them where to go next and that is leadership.
When think about leadership we start asking …
The Leadership Question
What question would you ask a leader? Would you ask any of the following questions … Why is there such a shortage of leaders? Why don’t we see examples that we can truly follow in the leaders around us? Why are leaders corrupt? Why do leaders seemingly only think of themselves?
The above questions are some of the typical questions people ask on a daily basis about leadership. But these are not the only questions that get asked. The other questions are what are known as ‘How’ and these are questions asked by people who observe the problem and wonder how the problem can be resolved. They ask … How can we identify leaders? How can we develop people into leaders? How can we encourage better leadership? However, there is one ‘how’ question that stands out and is different from the others. The question is … How can I make a difference?
When we get caught in the trap of thinking the problem is someone else’s, we tend to ask the ‘Why’ and not the ‘How’ type of questions. When we realise that leadership is our responsibility, and only we can make a difference, we start asking How can I make a difference? What can I do, even in a small way to make a difference?
In fact the only ‘Why’ question you should ever ask yourself is … Why should I be making a difference? The answer is simply we were ‘all’; called to make a difference in the lives of others.