One of the things I love to do is walk into a small bookstore with an uninterrupted hour at hand. I realize “love” isn’t usually used on an organization development blog, but I find my pulse quickening with anticipation when I discover a small, independent bookstore. I know an adventure is about to begin.
I love walking into a small bookstore. I observe the store lay out. I look at what’s kept closest to the check-out. I get a cup of coffee. And I listen. I listen to the kids playing in the children’s section, the clerk suggesting books, the three retirees rehearsing the morning’s golf game in the coffee shop, the baristas planning their evening escape.
And I read. I pick up random books, reading and browsing. There are some by local authors, fiction, history, photography. But the most exciting thing is encountering books by authors that don’t appear on my Barnes & Nobel or Amazon suggestion list. A random trip through the independent bookstore defeats the algorithm. Discovery begins.
I purchased two books: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage and Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect. In the first, Ann Patchett gathers essays on life, relationship, work, and art. Her writing flows, and the essays kept me asking myself about my own choices. In the second, Matthew Lieberman asks who we are as individuals and what drives our behaviors in relationships. His use of a mix of stories, examples, and research was interesting, but his writing style is what kept me reading: “fairness tastes like chocolate; our trojan horse selves; business brain.” I asked what this means for me and the people in the organizations I encounter.
I recommend both books. And, more importantly, I recommend seeking out an adventure this weekend.
What will you discover?
The photo is of my longtime favorite independent bookstore: Page and Palette in Fairhope, Alabama.
And my favorite local independent bookstore is Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas.
Listening is a vital business skill. Listening can be the deciding factor between a cohesive or fractured team, profit or loss, or long or short job tenure. Bernard Ferrari’s book, Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, offers an overview of this powerful skill.
We all know people who are poor listeners. We may even exhibit some of these characteristics ourselves depending on the situation. Practicing self-awareness can alert us to when these crop up in our conversations. Ferrari identifies six types:
- Opinionator: listens only to confirm his beliefs, never doubts, can be intimidating or squelch others’ ideas
- Grouch: assumes nothing others say is valid, can be contemptuous
- Preambler: goes down side trails, asks questions containing her preferred answer, a one-way communicator
- Perseverator: talks on-and-on to sharpen his point and support his bias, self-serving
- Answer Person: offers an instant solution, seeks to impress with quickness and brilliance, needs to “save the day”
- Pretender: is not interested because he has reached a decision or is distracted
Ferrari goes on to suggest habits that we can practice to improve listening skills:
- Plan: know what you hope to accomplish in a conversation before you begin.
- Stay focused: set aside distractors and set a goal of keeping a running summary of the important points, seeking the right question to clarify as needed.
- Be respectful: act in good faith, with honesty. It can help to say so at the start, “Talking with you helps me think through our options and risks.”
- Be quiet most of the time: use the 80/20 rule – speak only 20% of the time. Keep your mouth shut; ask good questions. (Note: if there are two good listeners, it should be a short and effective conversation!)
While this is not groundbreaking information, I appreciated the first third of the book as a summary of types of listeners and listening habits. The remainder discusses listening skills for decision-making, improving performance, sorting information, and steering conversations. Ferrari offers examples of effective questions and uses stories throughout to reinforce his points.
The book is well-organized and comes with an index, which I find particularly useful. A reader who is looking for a review of listening habits and questioning tips will find a good summary and thoughtful ideas presented here.
As an introvert, I find the “be quiet most of the time” habit the easiest to practice. The challenge I continue to work on is keeping the summary of important points in memory, which lessens the distraction of writing down everything someone says in conversation.
What is your easiest habit to practice? How would you challenge yourself to improve?
Ferrari, B. T. (2012). Power listening: mastering the most critical business skill of all. Penguin Group, New York, NY.
The subtitle of this book, A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, brings this memoir into the realm of organizations. I am, by far, not the first person to discover this book. Originally self-published in 1997, it is now in its 19th printing. Bob Sutton’s frequent mention in speeches, articles, and his blog provided the impetus for me to get a copy.
I was pulled right into MacKenzie’s orbit and read the book in two sittings. The hairball is “that tangled, impenetrable mass of rules, and systems, based on what worked in the past and which can lead to mediocrity in the present.” While not suggesting that any organization can rid itself of that hairball – afterall, we all have boundaries including cash flow and government regulation – he recommends that from time-to-time we extract ourselves from the hairball and tap into our imagination and creativity.
The memoir asks both sides of your brain to engage. His stories are mingled with drawings and diagrams, which inspired my imagination. From an organization development point of view, there are stories about facilitation methods, perspectives on organizational paradox from the viewpoint of the orbit and hairball, and opinions on leadership. He certainly is not boring! And he will challenge your thinking and imagination.
I’ll conclude with a quote from a 1997 interview with MacKenzie in Fast Company about the obstacles to escaping the hairball and getting to orbit:
Attachment to outcome. As soon as you become attached to a specific outcome, you feel compelled to control and manipulate what you’re doing. And in the process you shut yourself off to other possibilities.
I got a call from someone who wanted me to lead a workshop on creativity. He needed to tell his management exactly what tools people would come away with. I told him I didn’t know. I couldn’t give him a promise, because then I’d become attached to an outcome — which would defeat the purpose of any creative workshop.