Monday, June 23, 2008

Navigational Communications: Gender Intelligent Listening

“We are all in races, every day, especially in the work environment. Racing is a way of life, and we are all in it together.”
By Judith E. Glaser

Most of a leader's day is spent communicating, and for a leader, listening is perhaps the most important component of communication. Listening is the vital tool for connecting with others, for understanding your environment, for building relationships and partnerships with others, and for navigating your world collaboratively.

The Untrained Navigator
We hear one − seventh as fast as we think; about one unit of hearing to five units of thinking. Obviously, the mind has the opportunity and the time to construct questions inferences, assumptions and associations as we listen.

But, are we using this time wisely and with the newest wisdom and insights from the world of neurosciences and Gender Intelligence? Consider some of these newest insights about listening and gender in business.

Listening is Never Neutral
Lets start with some basics. Unlike this page before it was printed, the listening adult mind is never blank or completely impartial. Our listening is influenced by events, relationships and experiences − all adding meaning to what we hear. As objective as we would like to think we are in our listening, we actually are not.

We are subject to the effects of our physical and emotional states. Being tired, angry, elated or stressful predisposes us to selectively attend to what we hear. These two forces − history plus emotional state − make up our “listening set” at any point in the day. Gaining awareness of how we listen will enable you to adapt to challenges more quickly and give us a newfound set of insights from which to strengthen our leadership influence.

Our Listening Set - Brain Differences
We listen through past experiences and past interpretations. Our “listening set” becomes our frame of reference that helps us make sense of and make meaning out of our experiences, giving us our perspective or point of view.

Most interesting to the unfolding story know that women’s brains and men’s brains differ dramatically, according to neuroscientist Rex Jung, one of our Creating We Institute founding partners. Through his pioneering research, we can see that men and women listen very differently based on how their brains are hardwired to respond to problem-solving, decision making, innovation, and relationship building, to name of few of the many differences.

How Women Listen
Women’s brains have much larger corpus callosum – the part of the brain that connects both left and right hemispheres. Women listen by connecting more data points than men do. They listen with a larger frame of reference, processing context, connecting data points and listening for implications. By nature, women are more interested in the journey before the destination.

How Men Listen
Men listen with a more focused attention to solving a problem, making a decision or taking action quickly. Men have more “compartmentalized listening” while women have more web-based listening. Men listen to make a decision, to get the “answer” or to fix a problem, while women listen first to get the broad context and explore the dynamics so they can make the decision with a broader perspective. Men listen to takes steps forward and make a decision, much more quickly than women do. By nature, men are interested in the destination, before the journey.

On Your Mark, Get Set
Whether you are a man or women, or are in sales, marketing, technology, publishing, media, banking or whatever your field of concentration, understanding how your brain listens and how you use listening to navigate your world is vital to your success as a leader.

The Navigator
Try to recall a recent situation where you were a listener. It may have been a speech delivered by an executive, a discussion with a sub-ordinate or an explanation from a peer. Did you listen to facts or to specific words? Did you paraphrase these words in your mind? Did this lead to new impressions, feelings, and ideas? Were you affected by how the speaker stood her low voice or his tan suit?

Did his anger bother you? Were you evaluating the speaker's effectiveness as a communicator? Were you judging? Or were you so preoccupied with your own problems that you didn't listen at all? It's impossible to attend to everything we hear, so we listen selectively.

But what guides your listening? It isn't the same for everyone; for example, we know that individuals who hear the same speech will walk away with different impressions of what they heard. Obviously, they didn't “hear” the same thing.

The Gender Intelligence Listener
In business, executives need to focus on the interpersonal influencing process. Who is being influenced from Point A to Point B and why? What is the intention of the listener? Where is this conversation going? To what ideas, beliefs and behaviors is this person most committed in his life? Which of these ideas, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors need to be influenced for the person to be more effective on the job?

What do I know about this individual that will help me better understand her and what is being said? Are her problems, or concerns, such that we can effect real changes, or are they out of reach in the business context?

The executive examines the way she/he answers to see how these answers affect the listening process. Will the employee listen better if the answers are short and sweet (“yes” or “no”) or will listening improve if these statements contain more background information? What kind of information will be helpful?

Gender Listening is a powerful tool in the complex and uniquely human process of listening. It helps us peer into the minds of others – to step into their shoes – enabling us to set more helpful, meaningful and satisfying shared objectives for action.

“Gender” - Listening
Using Gender listening, the art of knowing how “you listen” and how your listening affects your performance – and others’ performance - will make you a better executive. Listening is not an end in itself, but part of a chain of processes that end in a decision, strategy, or change in behavior or point of view.

When driving some place new, we think nothing of stopping at a gas station for a map so we can navigate in unfamiliar territory. In doing this, we learn “how to” so navigating the roads can be done efficiently and with less chance of an accident. If we get lost, we need only refer back to the map to find our way. Listening can be approached the same way.
  • In practicing Gender Intelligent Listening, we listen carefully and non-judgmentally to see where others are coming from – what perspectives they hold.
  • If we are uncertain, we start by clarifying the intention of the conversation so we remove any bias or preconceived notions before we “navigate with” not “against” the other person.
  • To reduce the ambiguity of meaning and intent, we ask questions, rephrase and restate what was heard in the new words – ensuring we have a shared understanding of where our conversation is going.
  • If we discover differences, we treat them as perspectives to explore rather than conflicts to argue – thereby opening the conversations space of greater understanding.
  • Out of this process you will experience a validation of the “I” and a strengthening of the “We”…. a deeper respect and understanding of both Genders and the strengths they bring to a conversation
Gender Intelligent Questions
  1. What is the situation?
  2. How are you approaching it?
  3. What outcomes do you want to create?
  4. What are you focusing on?
  5. What resources do you need to draw upon?
  6. What assumptions do you hold?
  7. What does success look like, and how do you measure it?
The Racer’s Edge
When we adopt the framework of Gender Intelligent Listening, we improve our ability to communicate in a world of change, and to make more timely and accurate decisions with others, both men and women.

Few decisions involve a simple yes or no; gender perspectives almost always play a role. What leader hasn't silently thought, “if I grasp the wrong intent of the situation, what risk am I taking in making a decision?”

Using Gender Intelligent Listening, you will move from making assumptions to gaining clarification of meaning and intent, and by asking the right questions can put the odds in everyone's favor.

 Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books:
Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization - winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; and the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose

Contact: 212-307-4386