Marian J Thier the President of Expanding Thought Inc. & Listening Impact, has been helping Fortune 1000 companies achieve breakthrough results since 1984. Marian developed THINK TANK: The Game of Creative Problem Solving as well as Thought Expanders, and has written and lectured extensively globally.
Expanding Thought focuses on leadership development, increasing collaboration speed, stimulating original thinking, improving communication and changing the organizational climate. In her work, Marian learned that people in business spend about 50% of their day listening; yet, they have the ability to retrieve less than 9%. Hearing is natural, listening is a learned skill. Listening involves the brain, body, and emotions, so it is a complex system that requires hard work to master.
MO: What made you realize that people weren’t really paying attention?
Marian: I’ve coached many individuals and teams, and communication always comes up as a problem, so I decided to try to figure out why. I spent two years observing, conducting research, asking questions, and pouring through 360 results. Gradually, like a Polaroid picture, the story emerged—people are pretty good at output, or talking, advocating, writing; but they are terrible at input, or listening and inquiring.
The more I learned, the more it became obvious that poor listening leads to partially formed decisions, employee turnover, frustrated customers, compliance rather than commitment, and pretend collaboration. All most of us have to do is sit in on a meeting to see examples of lack of attention: interruptions, playing with technology, disconnected body language, and lack of intelligent questions.
MO: How have managed to uncover people’s listening habits? What kinds of tools do you use?
Marian: I figured out that part of the listening problem is that people don’t really know how they or others listen, nor that we have different listening patterns, or habits. I worked with neuroscientists, psychometricians, and other brain/body specialists to develop an instrument that assesses people’s listening habits. There were a few available listening assessments on the market, but most of them attempted to show whether the person was a good or bad listener. I wasn’t interested in that route, I wanted people to understand how they listen and if those habits served them well in the workplace. The instrument I ended up creating, Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio® describes a person’s listening habits, preferences, strengths and challenges. Once the individual knows how s/he listens, then we can determine how to build capacity to be able to listen appropriately in any situation.
MO: In what ways do you think that poor listening impacts the workplace? And is it more common than people think?
Marian: Poor listening accounts for billions of dollars of losses a year. Just think, if the average employee spends 50% of a day listening and leaves about 40% of that information on the table, misunderstood, ignored, or forgotten, it’s not hard to see the impact on productivity, decision-making, relationships, innovation, and turnover. It’s always been common, but the additional challenges that technology and globalization bring, make it even more difficult.
MO: What kind of differences can people expect after using your services?
Marian: The three most common pieces of feedback are:
• I never before thought about how I listen, and now that I’m aware, I’m already doing a better job.
• The way you present listening as a muscle that must be developed and practiced, has taken me to an entirely different level of raising my consciousness and competence. I never realized just how complex listening is.
• We never realized how little we actually listen to one another. Now that we know one another’s styles, preferences, strength and weaknesses, we can use that information, especially when we’re collaborating.
MO: I would imagine that this is an issue that affects people’s home and social lives without them even knowing it. Any plans for expansion outside the business sector?
Marian: Unlike personality traits that tend to remain constant over time and settings, our listening habits can change. Listening is a habit formed in our brains, bodies, emotions, and context. If any of those factors change, so might the way we listen. I’m always doing research, and it does seem that some people listen very differently in personal situations than they do at work. So, for now, I’m keeping the focus on workplace effectiveness.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for your company?
Marian: There are two: We’re just launching our new website, ListeningImpact.com, where our products and services are listed, my blog on listening is posted, there are videos of people talking about the high cost of listening in their businesses, and we have some interesting quizzes to highlight what we’re learning about listening. The second piece of excitement is that the results for Hear! Hear? Your Listening Portfolio® are automated. That means we can spend more time discussing the meaning of someone’s profile and coaching him/her to greater listening fluency.
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