“I am OK, they are not OK”

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I had gone to meet Dr Gopal Valecha of IIM Bangalore. I wanted him to conduct a workshop for our people to improve our ability to listen. I was the head of Ogilvy & Mather Advertising in Bangalore. I felt that our people did not listen to clients. That led to poor quality briefings within the agency, leading to poor quality work.

“In effect you are saying ‘you are OK but your people are not OK'” said Dr Valecha.
“I think so” I replied.

Dr Valecha asked for a U shaped seating arrangement for the workshop. He suggested that I place two chairs facing each other in the well of the ‘U’. He started the workshop with a simple experiment. He asked for two volunteers. He suggested that I be one of them. One of my colleagues and I sat in the well, facing each other. He requested my colleague to speak to me for 5 minutes.

“Talk about something that happened to you last week” he suggested. My job was to listen to her without interruption. Once she finished he asked me to recall what she said to me. I did that and I thought I did a good job. I looked around at Dr Valecha and my other colleagues. I realised that something was amiss.

Dr. Valecha asked my colleague
“How do you feel?”
“Disappointed” she said.
“Why?”
“Because I get the feeling that he did not listen to me 100%.”
“But he did not interrupt you.”
“I am happy he did not. Yet, I could make out from his face that something else was going on in his mind.”
“What would have made you say ‘he listened to me 100%’?”
“If he first repeated everything I said without missing any of the key points. He got just about 30% of what I said.”

Just listen with your head and the heart

Dr Valecha turned around and asked me “What do you think happened?”
“I am surprised that she thinks I got only 30% of what she said. I did not interrupt her even once. In fact as I was listening I was also trying to figure out solutions for some of her issues. I thought that would be helpful for her.”
“What was the exercise? ”
“Just to listen to her”
“Were you asked to find solutions?”
“No”
Then he repeated the exercise with me and another colleague. This time I was to listen and not attempt any solutions.
“Just listen with your head and the heart” he said.

Don’t play advisor, be a tape recorder

It was my turn to recall what my colleague said. Dr Valecha gave me a tip “Play tape recorder; don’t add anything.” I did a much better job this time.

“Just because you are quiet when some one speaks, does not mean that you are ‘listening’. You have to switch off all the inner chatter and listen as if nothing else matters. Don’t play advisor, be a tape recorder”

Invaluable lesson for a coach.

R. Sridhar

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