In Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, Bernard T. Ferrari details the why and the how of becoming an expert listener.
One of the best takeaways in Power Listening is Ferrari suggestion that a major key to good listening is being able to “develop a filing system in our heads, and to ask questions that get those folders and cabinets adequately filled."
Along with his advice on how to perfect our listening ability and gain critical feedback from our conversations, Ferrari also describes the characteristics of poor listeners and reviews the common pitfalls in conversation, with practical advice on how to avoid them.
Ferrari identifies and discusses six familiar types of poor listeners:
the Opinionator (wrong a lot, but never in doubt)
the Grouch (negative outlook, everyone else is wrong)
the Preambler (long and winding monologues with plenty of digressions)
the Perseverator (self-serving and self-centered orator)
the Answer Man/Woman (quick to jump to solutions)
the Pretender (not invested or actually interested)
Ferrari’s background as a successful surgeon, lawyer and businessman serve as a foundation for both his research and his conclusions on the critical skills required to listen actively with empathy and strategic intention. He believes:
"Listening can well be the difference between profits and loss, between success and failure, between a long career and a short one. Listening is the only way to find out what you don't know, and marks the path to making good decisions, arriving at the best ideas. If you aspire to be better at your job, no matter what it is, listening may be the most powerful tool at your disposal".
Ferrari refers to the listener in a conversation as a “conversation partner,” which elevates the listener from a passive recipient or target to a collaborator in a process intended to add value and understanding for all involved in the conversation.
He poses questions throughout Power Listening that help the reader both sharpen their inquiry skills and discern how and when to apply those skills. He also explores conversation challenges such as knowing when and how to interrupt in a conversation and how to pose questions effectively. Ferarri introduces what he calls his “80:20 rule.” The 80:20 rule suggests you should aim to be speaking 20 percent of the time and listening the other 80 percent.
Most of us are so busy in our daily lives, we have grown accustomed to rushing through conversations, with the main goal of getting our own point across. In Power Listening, Ferrari reminds us that listening is both a lost art and a critical skill for business and personal growth and success.
Conclusion: What to Do on Monday Morning
Here’s a list of things to begin doing on Monday morning. It is a list that has served me well and one that continues to remind me of what I must aspire to master.
Keep quiet. The more you’re talking the less you’re listening. Watch yourself for any telltale behaviors of the classic poor listening types; do you best to nip those in the bud. Never lose sight of the first priority of conversation: to gather information. Your goal is to cede the lion’s share of the airtime to your conversation partner. Let the 80/20 rule be your gold standard.
Challenge assumptions. Both you and your CP need to enter into a dialogue with a mutual understanding of any underlying assumptions, and with an open exchange about whether or not those assumptions have been tested, and how much weight they carry. This where the questioner’s are is perhaps most important.
Focus on what you need to know. Great listening means minimizing the inevitable detours and digressions and distractions.
Increase your tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty.
Sort incoming information.
Work your memory to gain insights.
Know when to pull the trigger.
Demonstrate the best listening practices to lift everyone’s game.