How product managers can achieve transformational listening
Today we are talking about listening. How would you rate yourself as a listener? I consider it a superpower for product managers and innovators, because proper listening is a key way to learn what customers need. It is also a behavior of those gaining influence in their organizations.
To help all of us better develop this superpower, Christine Miles joins us. She is the author of What Is It Costing You Not to Listen: The Power of Understanding to Connect, Influence, Solve & Sell.
For three decades, Christine has been helping organizations improve by applying human skills to drive results and build cultures of empathy. Teaching people to listen differently has been a big part her work.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:55] Through working with CEOs, what have you learned about the importance of listening?
CEOs know listening is important, but they often haven’t taught people how to do it. Performance is accelerated by emotional acuity, not just intelligence. Superstars have both emotional intelligence and technical skills.
[5:34] What’s a story of a failure that happened because people weren’t listening well?
We tend to overestimate our listening skills, and none of our education systems teach listening skills. We’re all failing to listen, because we’re not equipped to know how to do it.
I was on a very technical call with engineers who had delivered an energy-saving product and were validating the results. The engineers and the customer thought they were talking about the same thing, but they weren’t on the same page at all. The engineers weren’t hearing what the customer was asking for. Fortunately, the head of sales had been trained in how to listen differently, and he intervened and got them aligned so the engineers could solve the right problem. The main failure that results from not listening is we end up solving the wrong problems.
[9:36] What is the foundation of listening differently?
Listening differently or transformational listening goes beyond attentive listening. Just paying attention is a low bar to achieve. To listen differently, we need to understand and uncover insight. When you do that, you’ve earned the right to solve the problem.
[12:56] How can product managers avoid falling in love with their solution and thinking they’re listening when they’re actually filtering information through the framework of what they believe the customer needs?
The brain is the enemy of listening. We’re all telling ourselves a story, which can contaminate what the customer may really need. You can’t white-knuckle your way to listening differently. You wouldn’t go into the woods to get over the mountains without tools in your backpack, but we go into important conversations without being prepared, thinking we can white-knuckle our way to the other side of the woods.
[15:44] What tools do we need to listen differently?
The most powerful story you can tell someone is their own. We influence people by understanding their stories. Understanding and saying we understand have nothing to do with each other. If I reflect, confirm, and validate what you said, then we truly have understanding.
Every time you’re in a conversation, a story is happening, and you need to understand the story to discover the insight. Some of the most important tools are the Six Most Powerful Questions:
- Take me back to the beginning. People tend to start in the middle of their story and go forward, but we need to go backward so we’re on the path together. Asking why questions can cause people to shut down rather than open up. Asking where the story starts causes them to relax and open up.
- Tell me more.
- Then what happened?
- How does that make you feel? The first three questions are factual, but asking an emotional questions is incredibly important. It might seem uncomfortable, but people will answer it, and the results are very powerful.
- Hmm. This is similar to Tell me more but avoids interrupting the speaker.
- It sounds like you feel _____.
You can ask these questions in any order you want, as often as you want, and they will get you the majority of the story.
You can also use the affirmation tool of asking Do I get you? to see if you’re getting alignment and connection.
For every three to five technical questions, ask one emotional question, which will open up both emotions and facts of the story.
Action Guide: Put the information Christine shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” – Albert Einstein
“Understand first.” – Christine Miles
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.