Connecting with Listening

Connecting with Listening

This week we explore what it means to truly listen, how  improving our listening skills improves our lives at work and home.   Listening is a key skill when it comes to trying to have successful leadership, successful change projects, and just successful relationships.  In general, it's one of the most important skills we can have.   Episode notes can be found at

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human






Cristina Amigoni  0:00 
This week on Uncover The Human we're going to talk about listening.

Alex Cullimore  0:07 
That's some good listening right there.

Cristina Amigoni  0:09 
That is, that's at least seven seconds.

Let's get going. 

Alex Cullimore  0:15 
Welcome to Uncover The Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives,

Cristina Amigoni  0:20 
whether that's with our families, co workers, or even ourselves.

Alex Cullimore  0:24 
When we can be our authentic selves magic happens.

Cristina Amigoni  0:26 
This is Cristina Amigoni.

Alex Cullimore  0:28  
And this is Alex Cullimore.

Both  0:30  
Let's dive in.

Guest  0:32 
Authenticity means freedom. Authenticity means going with your gut. Authenticity is grooming 100% of yourself, not just the parts you think people want to see. But all of you. Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself. It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep rooted and true. Authenticity is when you truly know yourself, you remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be. It's transparency relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.

Alex Cullimore  1:09  
Hello, and welcome back to Uncover the human. This week, we're going to dive into the topic of listening. Listening is a very important subject when it comes to trying to have successful leadership, successful change projects, and just successful relationships. In general, it's one of the most important skills we can have. And we wanted to delve a lot more into that, especially as we enter our classic divided political system. We are currently recording this the day before the election. So we don't know what's going to happen. Maybe by the time this is out, everybody knows. But we are currently in a state of needing to listen and being a bit divided. So it's kind of a fascinating time to go try this out.

Cristina Amigoni  1:48 
It definitely is. Listening is a skill that we all need right now, as you mentioned, and we also don't really get taught how to do it. So lots to explore.

Alex Cullimore  2:00 
We always talk about how to speak. There's lots of public speaking courses. There's lots of kudos given for people who can give presentations, but it doesn't say much and we don't learn much about how to take information the other direction where it's coming at us. How do we absorb that? And how are we best? And that becomes how do we best learn? How do we best interpret what is being communicated to us? How do we make good decisions? I actually saw in the news recently, they were looking around the world looking at countries that had better handled the coronavirus pandemic than others. Ones that are either mostly reopened or entirely reopened or just had minimal death rates, or were really on top of a just general response. And one of the top of the list for the entire world is New Zealand where basically everything is open as normal. I don't think they have a lot of travel there because they managed to contain the virus incredibly well. I think they recently passed the three month mark of having no new cases. Not sure if that's still true. It's been a couple weeks. But they talked to Jacinda, Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and asked her how did she do this. And what she said was that they didn't know what they were doing, because nobody did, it's a brand new disease, we still don't have all the information on it, we still don't have information about what's successful as far as containing it, where it's the most dangerous transmission vectors. We don't know any of these things. And she said that they didn't know, it's not like they knew better than the rest of the world, but she took her time to listen to experts. She took as many experts as they could, they were there just to find as many options as they could and then try to form the best policy and best response that would fit all of the information they were getting from experts, which makes sense. If you think about it, is something entirely unknown. How do you respond? And how do you respond as a leader?  And we often think of leadership as the person that has the answer, and that's the dangerous position to be in. When you are the leader, you then get trapped into thinking that you have to have the answers. But more often than not, it's about listening to be able to find an actual fully fledged solution.

Cristina Amigoni  4:13 
All very good points. And it makes sense to me. I think when you look at leadership, when you look at how you learn, when you look at even something as simple, I think there's a saying "we have two ears and one mouth" for a reason. We're supposed to be listening twice as much as we speak. And it's kind of funny, I actually mentioned that to my kids last night, I can't remember why we're talking about listening. And so my six year old turned around and looked at me and is like,"yeah, you talk too much mommy". So I guess I need to do a little more listening within the family according to my six year old, but it's definitely a skill that takes a lot to learn because as you mentioned, Alex, we don't learn how to listen, we don't celebrate listening. We actually, in a lot of cases, do the opposite, we undermine listening. And we punish when people spend more time listening than speaking. So if you don't speak up in meetings, you may not get invited to other meetings, you may be looked at somebody that doesn't have an opinion or doesn't know what they're talking about or is not intelligent enough. That's one of my definitely traumatizing experiences. When I was a kid, growing up in Italy, I was definitely an introvert. And I spent a lot of time listening a lot more than speaking. And my teachers assumed that I just didn't understand what was going on. And I wasn't smart enough to be in the class, because I wasn't speaking.

Alex Cullimore  5:39 
Well, that's a big assumption to make, especially as a teacher.

Cristina Amigoni  5:42 
Yes, and especially when it starts in first grade, and then you get labeled for the remaining of your school life as the person that just is not catching up. And it's not staying on top of things. Just because you do more listening than speaking.

Alex Cullimore  5:57 
That's not great. Actually I've heard of a few people who were mis-diagnosed with  ADD, because they were bored with whatever was happening and so they would seem like they were distracted, they would seem like they're constantly out there. And it was because they were already basically done learning or listening. And so it's such a weird, delicate balance of being able to convey that you are listening and being able to convey that you're paying attention, like in your case, it's not that you're quiet, because you're not getting it, it's quiet because you're listening. It's quiet, because you're absorbing it. And it's not because it's going over your head, it's a weird part of listening is being able to get people to understand that you're listening, you're not asking them to fill every silence with words, but you're there to hear and you are responding to what they're saying.

Cristina Amigoni  6:40 
Indeed, one of the best skills that I have learned in my coach training is the listening and allowing for silence. Silence is very uncomfortable for most of us. And we definitely learned to fill in, as soon as there's a moment of silence, somebody has to jump in to fill it in. And in coaching, especially the beginning of the training, we are not allowed to not leave silence, we actually get dinged points in feedback sessions if we don't allow for silence, because we have to allow our clients to keep processing what they're trying to say. And sometimes it just takes that pause, and sometimes that pause is long pause, but you still need to allow that. And so that was very difficult at first, and now after, you know, a year and a half, I have gotten to the point where I'm so comfortable with silences, that even in meetings, if I ask a question or somebody's thinking, I can be silent and leave it for minutes.

Alex Cullimore  7:40 
That's definitely a good skill. It's one that I definitely run into. I don't like to feel like, especially when I was starting in a career, I didn't like to feel like people weren't engaged in a presentation. And I'd be nervous to go give a presentation to go deliver whatever information you have to deliver. And I would feel like I had that need to fill all of the gaps to fill the silences. And it would generally lead to just plowing straight through five minutes worth of content and somebody might have had a question 30 seconds in, somebody might have had a question every 30 seconds for all five minutes. But if I didn't stop myself to give that pause, to look around to see if people wanted to hear more, then you end up just running right past them. And you're not listening for their responses, you're just hoping you're not boring them and that's not helpful, especially when people do want to ask questions. I've actually heard it said that in teaching things, when you ask a question, an open ended question even something like Does anyone have questions? Or does that make sense? Or maybe you ask a specific question, looking for an answer from the class to make sure they're paying attention. I believe it was recommended that you're supposed to wait at least seven full seconds. And that doesn't sound long until you do it.

Cristina Amigoni  8:54 
Very true. It definitely doesn't sound long until you do it and you get used to it and people understand what it is. One of the things that I've tried actually in the past is to set that expectations up front. So at the beginning of the presentation to say I am going to pause at the end of each slide. I'm going to give you time to think through whatever you may have to ask, and then you will give me the signal when you're ready to move on to the next slide. As opposed to me assuming that silence means I need to fill it in and move on.

Alex Cullimore  9:22 
One of my favorite quotes in just general quotes is I think it was by Blaise Pascal. He's a mathematician and he wrote a giant letter to a friend and he ended it with sorry for the long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one.  It's much harder to condense that into something that is just the information that needs to happen. And if you think about a presentation where you're giving it slide by slide, you're trying to distill every single slide to only the necessary information, which means you are you're getting as to what they need to hear. But that means you are trying to make that as content dense as information dense as possible, which means giving those seven seconds is especially important, because you haven't necessarily said much, you've tried to keep it succinct, but it should be so much information, they might need that seven seconds just to process everything you've said and to understand the implications that you're drawing, the things that you are connecting, different bullet points between. If it's a good information dense slide, as we're all guided to do, and we're all told we should get down to the information we need. If it is that, it will take a little bit longer to absorb that, because you're trying to deliver as much content as possible and as little time as possible, which means give the audience some time to digest it.

Cristina Amigoni  10:40 
It reminds me of this podcast I listened to a while back with Oscar Trimboli on deep listening, listening, he actually goes around and has a lot of studies on deep listening and techniques on how to teach leaders how to deep listen, and how it makes an impact in their leadership and everything within their company. And in the podcast, he says if there are three numbers that you take away from this, remember this, people speak at about 125 words a minute, we process, we hear at about 300 words a minute, and we think at around 900 words a minute. And so if we think about those three numbers, it means that when somebody's speaking from a hearing perspective, we're filling in the blanks, because they're not speaking fast enough. And we're filling in the blanks with our response or opinion, what we had for lunch what the weather is going to look like, whatever it is that we're filling in the blanks with. And at the same time, from a processing what's in our head, in our brain, to being able to say it out loud, we are able to only say out loud 10% of what's going on at any given moment in our head, which means it's this big washing machine of concepts and words and ideas. And when we start speaking 10% of that comes out and we have no idea whether the 10% is actually what we meant or not.

Alex Cullimore  12:12 
And it might be that we think it's what we meant, but it may have a completely different interpretation on the ears that it's falling on. I was thinking about that, if you think about painting, it's easy to imagine just a beautiful landscape or something, and there's no way that I have ever practiced anything like painting long enough to actually create that. And I always think of that in terms of  what you're thinking versus what you're saying, I may have this elaborate picture in my head. And I will tell you, my thoughts that I think outline that picture, but it really depends on your interpretation and your life experiences over whether that's going to resonate. And whether you can fill in the blank and start to see a very similar picture to me.  There is all of human communication in that, everything is trying to get across what's inside my head and make sure it's approximately what you're seeing inside your head.

Cristina Amigoni  13:11  
We see the world as we are not as it is. And so even your words that you use are going to be taken differently from me, and especially if my head is filled in with all the blanks that I've filled in because you're not speaking fast enough. Well, you do, Alex, but other people may not be speaking fast enough. So one of the tricks that Oscar actually talks about is if we want to focus on deep listening, then we take pauses, so we allow for silence, we treat the silence as a word, we go back to the silence concept and how that's just as important as any other word. We clear our head, so we prepare ourselves to listen to someone, we let go of distractions, emails, phones, whatever it is that it's around us, we let go of that so that we can actually be present. We drink water, so we're hydrated and take those pauses, and breathe. And the main concept that I really love about the way he explains it is that deep listening is not just listening to what the other person is saying and processing it so that me is the receiver I understand it, but it's actually helping the speaker process that washing machine of crazy amount of words that they have in their head. That's deep listening. So it's not really about me at all.

Alex Cullimore  14:29 
That's a good point to the idea of almost listening to yourself having to use the words to be able to make less of a jumble in your head as the idea of rubber ducking, the idea that you are talking at somebody, not necessarily even to them, you just need to express them in verbal format so that your brain has had to put the parameters of language and explanation around it enough to the point where you're almost explaining it to yourself, and you probably are.

Cristina Amigoni  14:53 
And how many times have we been in situations where we say something and after it's come out? We're like "Oh yeah, no, that didn't sound like it did in my head." And that's that process in our heads, it's this crazy just jumble of concepts and words. And when it comes out, we try to make it sound like we want it, but we're not quite sure that's possible. So when we have somebody that on the other side is helping us do that by asking deep questions, open ended questions, asking us to elaborate giving us that pause, that silence to say it again, asking for clarifications, and just being there. A lot of it is getting the stuff out of our heads, so that we can then free up space. And honestly it goes back to feeling heard, feeling valued, which we've talked about many times before. That's what listening really is about, "I see you, you exist, and I'm here."

Alex Cullimore  15:51 
They talk about that in things like marriage counseling between couples, not trying to solve problems for people, but listening to the problems, what is needed more often than not, is to be heard. And it can sometimes be counter productive to try and suggest a solution because the person who is saying, "Hey, I have this problem," they're not looking for you to say, "Well, here's an easy solution." Because then a it looks like maybe they didn't think of that solution and ignoring the fact that what really needed to be said was, "I need you to hear that I have an issue, I need you to hear that there's something I just want to get off my plate". And it doesn't have to do with looking for a solution to this, unless you specifically ask for advice. Often we just want to be heard, we want to know that our experience is out there that somebody else will ratify. We're not crazy in our reactions to it and it's shared, it's just there to be expressed not to be solved, not to be dissected, unless we really want to. And if we want to, well generally ask it that way. We won't just say, "Man, I'm having this problem at work," we'll say, "What would you do in that situation?"

Cristina Amigoni  16:55 
Very great distinction. And yes, anytime, any moment somebody validates that I'm not crazy, it's a good moment. I go through a lot of moments in my life where I feel like I'm crazy. I just need somebody to tell me no, you're not. "Oh, my God, thank God." Okay, we can move on.

Alex Cullimore  17:13 
That's such a good tool when you think about listening in general. And if you want to improve listening and improve communication, one of the most basic examples I can think of, one of the most helpful things that I like to do when I feel stuck, or I'm trying to get through a hard point or somebody seems, if you're in a discussion or an argument perhaps about something that needs to happen at work and you have one approach, that somebody else has some some other idea. One of the most effective ways I found to connect to listening, both to hear the other person's point of view, and to make sure they feel heard, is to try to repeat what they are saying you're saying. So what I'm hearing is "you want to do it this way." And when you frame it there, then you also have the chance to say "hey, the reason I don't think that's the right way to do this, or the reason I think there may be a pitfall we're not seeing if we go with that approach." When you word it through that frame, not only have you done your part listening to them, but they will now also understand that you are hearing what they are saying.

Cristina Amigoni  18:11 
Acknowledging and validating are the first two coaching skills that we learn as coaches and acknowledging is repeating back what the person said "I paid attention. And I'm going to help you hopefully process what you said".  Because maybe by hearing somebody else say it, it will spark an idea, it will make a connection, it will allow you to to pause and think "Oh, wait, no, I don't think I meant it that way. Let me try and say it again. " And I would say that with the marriage counseling piece, leadership is the same. I mean, a big, big meet Miss in leadership, which I think we just found some statistics on that, like 2% of leaders learn how to actually listen. And yet leadership is all about listening. That's the only way to be an effective leader. It's kind of going back to the solution, most people don't want a solution. If they want a solution, they'll ask, "I have no idea how to do this, please help." But most of the times they just want to be heard.

Alex Cullimore  19:11 
And they want to be able to express that this thing doesn't make sense, or there is some part of this that is clouded to me that I would really like some clarification on or just can we understand that from my point of view?  This seems difficult. And I've seen many conversations and you've told me about many conversations, I'm sure you've seen even more where somebody will bring up, in the workplace for example, some part of their job function that other people didn't know about. And people will be surprised to be like, "Oh, is that how that works for you?" Or they won't have thought about it from that person's point of view. But if we generate the 70 reports that everybody says are very important, that will actually triple your workload because you are in charge of going back and reviewing every report and making sure they're accurate and you can immediately lose people if they aren't allowed to have the space to say those things and people aren't hearing them. If they feel like they're just shouting into a void, that starts to feel like gaslighting almost, you're they're just saying something, and you're getting no response, you feel like there's total deadpan wall on the other side. And it starts to feel crazy, " does anybody here, I'm saying this is a problem, and everybody has gone on acting like I didn't say anything at all."

Cristina Amigoni  20:26 
That's the best, that's definitely a great experience to be in. I can't say that it doesn't sound familiar. It's such a huge thing and it really comes back to listening, it's kind of interesting, because when you think about change initiatives, or anything like that, there's so much information thrown at people. And that seems to be the tendency for change management is to think that in order to justify the cost of actually helping humans change, which goes back to a whole different issue itself, it has to be productive, which means we have to be doing things, something has to be done. If you're not doing and you don't have tangible deliverables and products, it means that we're just wasting time. And so then the, you know, immediately moves into send communication out, send the plan out, talk to people, do this right now. Because if you're not producing, then it's not worth it. And again you're talking at people, you're not helping them with the change, you're not communicating, you're not listening, you're not understanding where they're coming from, it's just throwing information at people, no good is gonna come out of that. So no wonder 80 to 93% of change initiatives fail. What did you expect?

Alex Cullimore  21:46 
That's a really funny point. And I think first of the emails that we get, every single week, if not, at least, every other week that come from Microsoft.  We use Microsoft as our email clients, and we get those product updates every two weeks, you get that product update. I cannot tell you, any thing that has come in those emails for the last seven months, I think I looked at the first two because I'd never been on the admin side of Outlook before, and I was like, okay, so some things are changing, but I can still send emails, right, and I stopped paying attention. And they keep coming every two weeks, there is some new essay of bullet points for new features on Outlook. And I couldn't tell you what's there. It's not that Microsoft isn't communicating those out, but am I gonna listen to this? No, no, it's gone.

Cristina Amigoni  22:36  
Exactly. So true. It's interesting, because we just started a project on building this complete training program for a startup company. And I was talking about it with a LinkedIn contact on Sunday. And he was like, "Oh, that's very fascinating. How do you do that?" And my answer was  "You do a lot of listening. So you start with a lot of listening." And it's been beautiful, because that's exactly what we've been doing. And that's exactly what the client has allowed us to do and encouraged us to do. So we've been interviewing anybody and everybody who will speak to us, which is pretty much anybody in the entire company wants to speak to us, which is also wonderful. And we ask the same questions to people in the same groups in the same teams. And the point is, we want different perspectives. Every person in here has a different experience, has different knowledge, sees things differently. And the only way that we can actually understand how we can help you learn how to do your job is first by actually understanding what you're experiencing as a human.

Alex Cullimore  23:39 
And that's some time when that silence that you brought up before is incredibly important. You ask a question to the group and wait, wait for everybody, because there is somebody who has probably a somewhat different reaction in the team, maybe they've had something where they've tried to say to the team a couple times, and they felt like that fell on deaf ears or just didn't change anything, and they're not going to bring it up again. But if you have that silence, and you give that space, and you wait, there's a good chance you will get that person to finally say, "you know, actually there is one thing I would like address in this and that is that we don't consider XYZ." And suddenly you have that little nugget of information. And the number of times I've been in requirements gathering meetings where that nugget ends up taking a turn for the project, and not in a good or bad way, just in a "Wow we would have missed this." If we didn't have that, that would have been a scope change later, that would have been something that was going to create problems for months down the road because there was some grain of salt, a grain of sand that was in the oyster, just picking at somebody but nobody knew it was hidden away, and it becomes a pearl of wisdom if you're willing to wait for it.

Cristina Amigoni  24:45 
It's incredible what will come up if you actually allow people to participate and you listen, as that's the intention. there is no other intention except for listening. So that's where we're focused on and it's in all aspects, it's in business, it's in families, it's in communities, if we just listen, we would be able to connect more. And also, if we take away the, I guess, myth that sometimes it's out there, especially in the workplace, that it's just about the words, so you don't actually have to ask the same questions to a bunch of people that could because they're going to come back with the same word, so you only hear it once. Well, that's not listening. Words are 10% of communication. The 90% is the tone used, when the words are used, any physical communication bit if you are on video, and you can see facial expressions, and anything like that is communication. The energy, one of the things that again as coaches we learn is, don't listen to the story, listen to the energy. And that's when you know what the red flags are, where the buttons are, where the things that matter to people are.

Alex Cullimore  25:55 
That's great advice. I just want to repeat that for posterity sake. Don't listen to the words listen to the energy. I think that's a great way of thinking about it. If you watch and feel that what the person is telling you emotionally, what they seem to be trying to convey, they may be saying, "Yeah, everything is fine, but it's the same way that you might hear a good friend say, yeah, everything's fine." And you're like, that is a red flag, things are definitely not fine. If you're listening for it, you listen for the energy, you don't listen for the words.

Cristina Amigoni  26:28 
Another advantage of allowing for that space in listening, especially if you're in projects and gathering requirements, and also allowing for multiple people to be listening to the same person is also important, because I listen to things differently, I hear the different energy than you would. So you going to the meeting Alex and then turning around and telling me what happened in that meeting is not like me being in that meeting. It's not at all the same thing. It's the telephone game.

Alex Cullimore  26:55  
And you can get better as you grow a relationship with somebody like you and I have talked at length at this point. And if I heard you tell me what happened in the meeting, what I'm going to get from that, not only because you're good at communicating the energy that you heard in that meeting, but because we know each other well enough, I'm going to understand also the things that may be causing you pause or giving you a second question in your mind. Because we've learned that trust over time, and that has come because we listen, we've listened enough, and we know where the reactions are. And we're forgiving when that doesn't happen.

Cristina Amigoni  27:29 
And we've learned what matters to the other person. So I think that's also you know, we have had meetings, especially in this project, where not everybody is able to participate, but there's full trust that whether it's Gail, or Linda or Jake, that they will listen for what they know matters to me as well, because they know me well enough, that then they'll be able to say like, "Hey, we heard these things that we know, Cristina is going to want to know, because she wasn't in the meeting." But it takes a lot of trust, it takes a lot of getting to know the person, it takes a lot of connection. And so it's not something you can just throw at any team at any point.

Alex Cullimore  28:04 
And the only way that I know to get to that level of trust, connection and relationship is through listening. If you haven't heard the other person, if you haven't heard what's important to them, I don't know how you would ever reach that point where you could say, "Oh, this is gonna be important to you, I need to bring this up." But that listening portion, that is the biggest piece of trust that I can think of, that's where I have gained trust. And that's where I was hired as a consultant right out of college and it wasn't because I had consulting experience. First of all, I was right out of college. Secondly, I didn't, I didn't study business, I studied theoretical math, that was the least applicable thing I could have done. And I went into consulting, because I got to go through interviews where I was talking to consultants, and they know that is the important part. It's always said in consulting, the relationship is what's important. And oftentimes, we treat relationship building and relationship management as this almost amorphous, some people have it, some people don't, you're either good with relationships, or you're not great with relationships, but ultimately, what I think got me through all those interviews, and what made for more successful consulting was putting listening first, when people feel heard, they're going to make their business problems known to you, you're going to know them better, you're gonna be able to solve those better, that will always turn into a better reputation and relationship on the business side, you're going to come up with better solutions. But as humans, we're also just going to connect to feeling heard and feeling listened to. And now you have more level of trust, because this person is hearing what I'm saying. And it's not that you always agree, it's not your Yes, man. It's not that you're just there to reinforce what they already think or believe. It's just that you're hearing them. And you may have a different perspective, so you have a gentle way of approaching this different perspective, but the only way to have that dialogue is if you've listened enough to not leave that person on the defensive and feeling like they still have to make their points because they haven't been heard yet.

Cristina Amigoni  29:56 
Listening is so important that there is no way you can actually help a client or customer unless you actually listen first, because there's no way you actually understand the problem from their point of view, no matter what assumptions you make, so how could you possibly come up with a solution before you even spend time listening,

Alex Cullimore  30:12  
And we see that miss all the time, in all aspects of life, we can see that in family communication, we can see that in workplace communication, we see that on the political front. Just considering the pandemic response, we have a group of scientists who have studied communicable airborne diseases, And we have a certain segment of the population that is unwilling to listen to these people and believe that what they have to say is accurate. And that is an interesting level of confidence that you know better about just, I don't know, your feeling on epidemiology, your feeling on how things spread. That's pretty confident to ignore every other viewpoints.

Cristina Amigoni  30:55 
Funny that you say that, because as you were talking about that, the only thing I can think of is the people that don't listen to others is because they lack the confidence.

Alex Cullimore  31:03 
That's an interesting point. If you have the confidence, you do the listening.

Cristina Amigoni  31:08 
Which is another big point that I have seen, successful leaders are the ones that can walk into a room and not speak much, because they have the confidence. And I'm sure I've seen either an article or a quote, recently, I think it was a quote, actually, it was Adam Grant that published a quote recently that actually talked about that, and how confidence comes from actually sitting back. It's not from speaking all the time, and presenting and making a point and taking over the room, that's actually a sign of huge lack of confidence.

Alex Cullimore  31:43 
That's an interesting point. That's actually what they say, when they communicate what it means to have narcissistic personality disorder, we always interpret this as this person who has a grandiose vision of themselves, but the core of it is that they lack that confidence, they lack the self worth. And so they are asserting and demanding from the world that they be treated as if they have this position of stature that they don't feel like they have internally. And that's, I think, a great point, you're bringing up on the listening point, the people who don't listen, the people who need to speak often don't have the right things to say, they're just trying to fill the void and make sure they stay, they feel like they're pasting over that level of insecurity. But when you have that as just a deep security, you're willing to sit back and you're going to listen,

Cristina Amigoni  32:28 
If you have the confidence that listening is what you should be doing, then you don't need to speak. And so you don't have to worry about things. Really, if you're speaking all the time, then you're clearly not comfortable with what's going on, you're not comfortable with learning for whatever reason, or you're afraid that if you don't speak, you're gonna be sent out of the room, which I had been so I get that.  I totally understand and it does take a while to build back the confidence to say like, "No, wait, it wasn't really about me being in the room listening that deserved me being thrown out being thrown out of the room."  But it does take a while to gain that confidence back once it's been shattered.

Alex Cullimore  33:10 
That's a good thing to consider when we think about how to listen better and how to be a better leader and a listener, it comes down to that secondary point of view of knowing when to listen and when somebody else is listening. And if you have that culture where you've established that it's okay to sit back and listen and not to have to assert yourself in order to feel like you're making progress or that people even know that you exist. That's an interesting thought on company culture, one that can encourage a group of people to understand that they are still there and they're valuable, and everybody needs them to be there without them having to say things in a meeting. And I say things in the most generic term possible because sometimes it does feel like that people are saying things to fill space.

Cristina Amigoni  34:01 
It very much does feel that way a lot of times and you're wondering "why are they still talking?".

Alex Cullimore  34:11 
Same topic is brought up like four times over. We've rehashed this right? We know we agreed the first time what we were gonna do about that. Okay, we're gonna talk about it again. All right, one more time around the merry go round guys. Let's do it.

Cristina Amigoni  34:23 
Exactly. And it reminded me of something and then I got stuck with the merry go round and I forgot it. I was listening so I let go of whatever my response in my head was.

Alex Cullimore  34:38  
I'm glad you brought that up, actually. That's one thing that comes up as well, when it comes to with you want to grow your listening skills is having that mindfulness of "am I listening to respond? Or am I listening to hear? Am I hearing what they're saying and then adjusting my response? Or did I ask a question and I was ready to say whatever my next thing was and basically just waiting for them to stop talking." That's one of my least favorite conversational experiences is when you've said something, or somebody asked you a question, and you're answering it, and you feel like you're drawing in the details from your life and the tangents. And you can just see in their eyes, it's almost like the person has paused, the eyes kind of glaze over, and they're held in the same stature. And they're just waiting to resume, whatever that train of thought was going to be, regardless of what you're saying,

Cristina Amigoni  35:30 
Even when they speak, it has nothing to do with just talked about. You are validated that they weren't listening, because they were just formulating this response in their head the whole time that they couldn't wait to get out. And it happens. I've heard podcasts, I've heard presentations, where people ask questions, and the answer has nothing to do with the question itself. And I'm always like, "Wait, no, but you didn't answer the question. What are you answering? I don't understand."

Alex Cullimore  36:02 
I think that's why we end up taking topics and not trying to set a full exacting outline for each one of these, because if we tried to stick to an outline, I think there would be a little awkward moments like that where we are like: "I hear what you're saying about listening. Now I was once at a merry go round." wherever else, we go from there, and you've completely missed the point, you're on some other tangent entirely. And not only does the person you're talking to know they weren't listened to, that's another one of those moments where it can be contagious, because somebody else watching is like, I don't think that person heard anything that was said. And if they asked me a question, I don't know if it matters what I say,

Cristina Amigoni  36:39
Oh, very good point. I mean, that's huge. It's learned behavior. So if you see it happening to others, then you assume it's gonna happen to yourself, and it goes both ways. If you see real listening happening, then you're more likely to speak up, because you're like, oh, that person actually means to listen to my opinion, it's not just posture, or, you know, pretend ( my kids play a lot of pretend). So you're not just pretending that my opinion matters, you actually do want to hear my opinion.

Alex Cullimore  37:10 
And time and again, you'll see in a company culture, the people who do the listening, those become the central spoke of a wheel that is connected to all the departments, because the people who are talking to their own managers and not feeling heard, but they do have this other person that they can talk to and feel heard. You can rest assured which direction they're going to go when they need to talk, that is going to be the person they go to. And it may have nothing to do with their job function. Or you may have a great relationship between the manager and the employee. But as humans, we are primed to understand when we're being heard. And we're going to seek that out. Especially if we need to be heard, especially if there's something where  "this doesn't feel right, and I need to get this off my chest".  Go to the person you think is going to listen, it's not even something we think about, we're just, "oh, I want to talk to about this and you know who has listened to before and will listen again, Cristina", whoever it is, jump in, like next to the that person, that's the one we go to.

Cristina Amigoni  38:12 

I would challenge that. If your manager is not listening to you, and he or she's not the person you turn to when you need to spea,  I don't know that that's a great relationship there, and it's a great leader to have, something big is missing. If you can't go to your manager, because you know, they're not going to be listening, then should they be your manager?

Alex Cullimore  38:37 
That's a great point. And that's one we've talked about before, the importance of using the word manager versus using something like leader or coach, because in my mind, I've thought about it long enough, and we try and differentiate that in our work, in our business enough. We don't want to use the word manager because that specifically says that somebody's managing people, it's like they are they're the puppet master. They are they're the taskmaster. They're the ones to go check the boxes and make sure you're doing the work, not the person who's making sure you can do the work. The person who's making sure you can do your work, you're not stuck, you have the resources you need, you have the people to talk to you that you need to talk to, those are the leaders, those are the coaches, those are the ones who are there to develop you and they will, by extension, create a much better product or project or whatever the initiative is, because the team is on it. And it's not because they were micromanaged. And again, that's the important difference between using the word manager and using the word like leader or coach.

Cristina Amigoni  39:37 
I have seen and I will probably agree nothing is you know, it's binary. So I have seen some conversations around the fact that you still do need a manager and I would agree, but I don't know that you need a manager of people. You may need a manager of tasks and schedules and numbers and data but a manager of people I don't know about that.  Short term, sure, you can justify that,  long term, you're gonna lose your people, if you don't lead, you're gonna lose your people, nobody wants to be managed, even if they pretend they do, so they may stick around in a job for eternity and pretend to be managed, but all they're doing is the minimum, and all they're doing is just checking off boxes, and there's no heart in it, there's no passion, they're not giving 100%, they're not being themselves, because again you're putting them in a box, and you're managing them to that box, not as humans.

Alex Cullimore  40:36 
And that comes down to listening, I think nine times out of nine, I'm not gonna say 10, that's nine times out of nine, there's no exception to it when you're managing, as that goes, if you're going to lay out the tasks, the priorities, and you know who needs to be doing which ones and you want to recheck in with people. If you don't hear people, when they say, "well, this isn't going to work out this week, or this took longer than expected because of X or actually, that one isn't as important as we thought, we're going to get done with that one shortly and we need to know the next piece."  If you ignore that, if you ignore what's been said, and you say, No, this is the schedule, or if you say, "I don't need to, I don't want to hear your extra input on this, I just need to get that done",  that starts to put that box around them because they're not going to be listened to. So they know they're not going to be listened to. And now they will only do the task as exactly outlined, because you're going to get no benefit from trying to extend or spread the understanding.

Cristina Amigoni  41:33 
And the irony is, if you actually listen to people and make that the point, and the main thing that you do as a leader is listening and making sure everybody feels heard, you actually gain all the knowledge you need to manage the tasks. And so maybe you just have to go back and verify but you're not really. I'm doing it right now in this project, I don't have to manage at the task level, because I'm actually listening to people when they talk. And so I'm observing and learning, and every once in a while, I'll have to verify, but I go in with an understanding of this is what I got, what am I missing?

Alex Cullimore  42:09 
I like that. And that's actually a really important point, if you want to think about discrete steps to take to be more of a leader than a manager. If you think about asking somebody, if they've completed a task, let's say you know, there's tasks A, B, and C and C relies on B depends on B depends on A, we know that A has to be done first. And so you go to the person you say "is task A done?" If they say no, are you just gonna say well, I need to get that done. Or that would be that would be the manager thing that says, and this is again, I'm writing this into large binary boxes, but in my head, this is where I kind of divide the manager leader in line. The manager asks, just get that done. Get it done on time, the leader says why can't that be done? And not? And why is it pretty defensive question to ask, it's more of a so what is standing in the way? Can I help out with that? Is there something that's stopping us from being able to do that we know there's going to be other pieces that are dependent on this, what can we do to help unblock or make sure that we have enough of task A done so we can move on to task B?

Cristina Amigoni  43:11 
Completely true, I've been thinking about, you know, how do you make that transition from manager to leader and what's a successful leader? What do you look at as the key things that leader should do. And I kept coming back in the last couple of days to the fact that personally, I think the main job of a leader that they should be doing every day when they're awake, and working with other people is LISTEN, if they focus on listening first, everything else will fall into place. And if they focus on not just listening and thinking, "well, I listened, so I'm all set", but in listening and then verify that the people around them feel heard, they've succeeded. Everything else is just going to happen naturally. And so that is the role of the leader, just make sure that people feel heard.

Alex Cullimore  43:58 
I like what you said there because it draws the difference between listening and hearing. And you can choose whichever version of that word you want to imply the two different meanings here. When you said it's not just about listening, it's about making sure they feel heard. There's that, listening is a two part thing. It's not just sitting back letting the words wash over you. And well they have been said in my presence, ergo I have listened, I am done.  It is making sure that there is the second feedback, which is I heard what you said. And it's helpful to say things like, "here's my understanding of what you've said, or let me repeat that so that we're both on the same page or whatever it is." That's a good, very easy way to connect to that 'you've been heard portion of it'. But that, I think is an important thing to think of when thinking of listening. It's not just hearing, it's interpreting and making sure the other person understands that you are listening, which isn't necessarily about you saying that to them,  "I am listening to you", but it's the active listening pieces of you're making eye contact nodding confirming understanding when they've said something, asking questions, follow up questions, making sure you're engaged in what they're saying. It's the second part of listening and that if you have both of those, then you are listening, you're not just hearing.

Cristina Amigoni  45:13 
Very good distinction. It reminds me of communication in general and also caring in how there's a tendency to say, well, I've communicated. You've communicated if the information was received, you throwing information out, that's not communication that's throwing information out. And maybe there's a better one word for that. But it's still not communication, communication is established by the receiver. The receiver can tell you, I've understood what you said, and I'm processing it, then it's successful communication, which is also one of the biggest pieces that's missing in a lot of change initiatives is like, "Well, you know, we sent two emails out, we told people we communicated. Check the box."

Alex Cullimore  45:55 
I like that analogy. Like I sent out emails, well, has anybody responded? I mean, it's all you can force people to respond. Of course, there are some people who don't respond well. And it can be frustrating not to have that response. But you can also virtually guarantee the communication is not taking place. It's like apologizing, I can't just scream out into the universe, I'm sorry. And then be like, well, "I apologized to x person, look A) did they hear it at all?  You can't just tell somebody, well I apologized. We're done here.  That's not how this works. It's a two part thing. The person that you communicated that to has to essentially agree and be on board with "Yes, I feel heard. I feel apologized to", whatever it is. The second, closing that whole loop on communication is where communication happens. Not just Microsoft blasting you an email every two weeks telling you nine bullet points on some minute detail that has changed in their SMTP service.

Cristina Amigoni  46:51 
I love the apologizing thing. I do have to say that for some apologies I would probably rather have an apology that was screamed to the stars, that one that never came at all. But that's probably a whole other episode on apologies.

Alex Cullimore  47:06  
To be fair, if somebody did just scream an apology to the stars, they are likely to come at you with a different attitude. Even if you had no idea they yelled to the stars that they were sorry for something they did to you,  they would probably come to you with a different energy. And you'll probably respond to that. Because again, it's not even about the words then, it's nice to hear the words and sometimes we really need to understand that somebody else understands what we have told them, or what they are apologizing for. But the energy is what you're listening for. And that's why you can't just say the perfunctory words, I'm sorry, for x, you have to seem to mean it. And we have to understand that on the other side.

Cristina Amigoni  47:44 
Yeah, and "I'm sorry BUT" is not an apology.

Alex Cullimore  47:48 
 Everything before BUT has been thrown out.

Cristina Amigoni  47:51 
Yes, exactly. Again, completely different episode on apologies which we know we definitely want to talk about.

Alex Cullimore  47:59 
That's definitely coming up. I think apologies is so much about listening. It's a very easy tie in for this. But one thing that I think about with listening and leadership is how much easier the job of leadership becomes if you listen, and I suppose easier is almost the wrong word. Because it's really just that you're doing it right. You're no longer struggling against trying to pretend to be a leader when you are listening. Like you said, everything will start to come together naturally. Because people will feel heard, they will say the things that need to be said you will gather the information you needed from the beginning, rather than just sending out a survey question over what you think you need, you will gather the information by listening that you will need for the project. And now the whole job is easier. The whole idea of leading people is easier they feel listened to they're going to start taking their own initiatives, understanding their corner of the world they want to improve. And if they feel listened to and they feel like they can bring those up, they'll improve their corner, the other people are going to improve their corner, it makes the entire job again, easier. But that's almost a misnomer, because really, it's just actually doing the job.

Cristina Amigoni  49:11 
True. I do like the fact that it's easier, I find it to be easier. And I found in the past that I just know things and I have been in a few jobs where people will, some of my managers or bosses or everybody around will always come to me and at some point and ask me  "how do you know so much?" I listen.  I hear things and I put them in a catalogue somewhere and I tucked them away until I need it, and people share because they feel heard, I guess,. I do actively seek information, but not all the time, I spend more time receiving information, then actively seeking it.

Alex Cullimore  49:51 
It's almost like a Google search. You can ask a question, but sometimes it's a matter of trying to figure out how to even ask the right question and sometimes you're asking something that seems related. And you have to go through five different related articles. And that's how I think sometimes human communication feels like, I'm asking something. Yes, I'm on it.  I may be on a quest for information about how payroll is going to run this week, I may ask a question specifically about payroll. But if I listen to the full response, I'm probably going to get some other piece of detail, which will either give me the kernel I need to go run with to get to the next piece of information, or somebody else I'm going to need to talk to.  That's where the full listening comes in handy. And it's not because it helps obviously to ask the right question. But it's not the only thing that matters.

Cristina Amigoni  50:36  
It's so basic to just listen to people. And yet it's one of those things and I'm like, "wait, but why wouldn't you do it? Why is this so hard? Why does it, why does it need to be said that people should be listened to and heard?"

Alex Cullimore  50:52 
I think we get caught up in our minds, when we're assigned a role where we feel like we're a leader. And we feel like we can easily feel like we need to have all the answers. And that's not a healthy approach for yourself or the people because either you will act like you have all the answers, and people will stop giving you information, and you will just be going on your own assumptions, which I am just as disappointed as everybody listening, are always going to be off. I hate it, but always a little bit off, we're never going to have as full as the picture seems in our head, there is a detail at the very least that we are missing.

Cristina Amigoni  51:28  
All the time, Every single time.

Alex Cullimore  51:31  
And then I think it also comes to motivating on leadership, we lose the listening, because we think we have to motivate people, "well, but they're not motivated to work." Humans are motivated by autonomy, we're motivated by feeling like we have some control over what we're doing. And we have some direction and say, and that's a listening piece.

Cristina Amigoni  51:50 
Well humans are motivated by knowing they exist. And the biggest way to make sure that somebody feels that they exist is by actually listening to them and giving them the space and understanding what they mean. So when somebody says "this is what I need to do my job, understand what that means, dissect it if you don't really understand it, I meet them where they are, instead of going back to that picture that we assume what they mean, we assume that well, if I just funnel information to the person, from what I know that's exactly what it is, that I've met the requirement and well No, is that what they asked?

Alex Cullimore  52:27 
And do you know if that's what they asked? Have you asked a clarifying question? Or did they ask a question and you spat back your best answer because you felt like you had to have that answer? Sometimes it's really helpful to have that follow up question. And I love to tell people that whenever they asked for something, or they asked for some help, "this is my understanding of it, I'm happy to walk through as many pieces of it as I can. Let me know if that doesn't make sense. Let's set up some a demo or an hour where we can just sit and talk about this if you want. Because I know that I'm just telling you this maybe over an IM client, I'm just telling you this over Microsoft Teams or Slack, and I hope that you understand what I'm saying." But it's text, it's another layer separated from being able to read facial expressions, from being able to read tone of voice. And so it's important, I think, and I like doing this because it tends to help out, both because people feel like you're much more approachable, they're not going to be worried about asking you a question in the future, but to follow up with, "does that make sense? And please let me know if there's any other questions, maybe this is a complicated topic, there's a few other pieces that ties into, I think that's the information you need now, but if you want information about how that connects to other pieces, please reach out anytime".  Then people have the space to go explore for more knowledge.

Cristina Amigoni  53:40 
And there's always going to be the need for more knowledge.  Especially with clients too, we have seen it quite a bit where they come with the problem or a ticket or something that they're stuck on and if we get stuck on, that's where the real problem is whatever they're communicating, then I would say 99.9% of the times we're actually not resolving what the real problem is because we're not digging enough, we're assuming that whatever they said is exactly what's going on which it is what's going on. It's not   just that, there's something behind it. A lot of the time, especially in business situations, or even in family and in social situation, we say what we think the person wants to hear, we don't say what we actually want to say. And so we change words to try and match the language that we've heard on the other side. Oh, we try to sugarcoat things because we don't know how they're going to be taken. And so many times I've been on the phone with clients where they come with "I can't do this function in this technology because of this." And instead of jumping to solutioning I asked them what they're trying to do. I get them to describe "what is it that, what process are you trying to do? What are you trying to accomplish with this? What's not happening that you expect it to happen?" And again, like 99.9% of the time, it had nothing to do with whatever solution we were going to throw at them if we hadn't actually investigated what was behind it.

Alex Cullimore  55:12 
That's a great way of asking that question is, "what are you trying to do?" Not, this button doesn't work.  If you're trying to support somebody through working on through an application or working on a website or something like, well, this button doesn't work? Well, why are you trying to push that button? Maybe that's not the workflow that was intended. And that it can easily, for user design people, can be a great opportunity for "Okay, maybe it's not very clear how this workflow should work." But from a just trying to help somebody with whatever roadblock they've run into, much easier to ask them what the context is, so that you're giving them the right information, they may be asking a sliver of it that they see and they think is the problem. But if you know the full nine steps that you have to do before and after that, you can more easily guide them through, "okay, well, this is where you want to go, this is how you want to think about it, this is an easier way to remember it" not just "Oh, go back three screens, change this setting. And then you can push that one."

Cristina Amigoni  56:09  
Very good example, especially in technology and user experience, is to understand how we know this from experience, and also from talking to other tech companies where there's a huge delta between what the developers intend to be happening and what the users actually do.

Alex Cullimore  56:30 
And if you would like to fall down a small internet rabbit hole, I would totally recommend looking up many of the memes on that. What the project manager asked for, what the developer made, and how the user is using it, there's usually three just wildly different interpretations.

Cristina Amigoni  56:48 
Yes, all the time. So on that note, I think we've come up with some good tips on listening, and how to apply deep listening and why it matters. Things like pausing, love the silence, just get comfortable with the silence, love the silence allow people space to just process, the 900 words per minute that are swimming in their brains.

Alex Cullimore  57:12 
Listening, giving the space and listening as a form of communication and understanding that listening is a two part function, it is both hearing and making sure that other person is heard, which means they have to acknowledge that they feel heard. And that is the full feedback loop. So listening not only as a function of absorbing, but it is an input output in itself.

Cristina Amigoni  57:35 
Having the courage to walk in, especially as consultants, consultants get hired as experts, to walk in and say the first thing we need to do is listen, the first thing we need to do is not give you a solution, it's not throwing information at you. First, we have to understand your problem, your journey, why this is different for you than it is from the person before you that was in the same industry with the same technology.

Alex Cullimore  58:01 
I like that example too, because there are so many consulting agencies out there where they say things like we are Microsoft CRM experts, we're Salesforce experts. And somebody may want Salesforce implemented at their company. But you don't go in there and say, here's how Salesforce works and they just set it up for them, you have to understand how they're going to use it, which is  what you were saying with the "What are you intending to do?" And then I can help you with that. That's where consulting succeeds, that's where projects succeed. That's where relationships succeed.

Cristina Amigoni  58:30 
And just remember, there's different perspectives. Different people will listen to the same words in different ways. Two different people will say the same words into different ways. So allow for that space. It's not wasted time. One of the things that has come up with us in this project is when we're all attending all these meetings, it was "hey, should I be in this meeting? Because I don't want to waste our budget on attending meetings." And my answer to that was "you attending the meeting is not wasting the budget, because if I have to explain things to you three times, because you didn't hear them directly, that's wasting the budget." Not that I don't want to explain things three times, or how many times, but you didn't hear it from the person you should have heard it from.

Alex Cullimore  59:13 
And then you're playing the game of telephone. Somebody has told me one thing, and that's my interpretation of it. And now I'm giving you my interpretation of it. And your interpretation will be a piece of what I have interpreted from that person. And every new layer of the chain later, there's new distortion, new separation from what was originally said.

Cristina Amigoni  59:31 
And then we're going to be wasting time with you trying to catch up with what was originally said. So let's just go straight to the source, give you what you need from the beginning. And let's move on, so that we can move together instead of you having to catch up to me being halfway up the mountain all the time.

Alex Cullimore  59:47  
This is a great way to say there is there's ROI in listening. If you want to think of it in numbers, terms, there's ROI in that, there's ROI in the relationship, there's ROI in billable hours, there's ROI in success of projects.

Cristina Amigoni  1:00:00  
Huge ROI.

Alex Cullimore  1:00:01 
Well, this has been another very fun conversation. I like listening. And it's something that we all have to practice continually. I feel like every one of our topics ends up with, this is the moral of the story, the moral of the story being, it's a practice, it takes some work. And it can be tremendously powerful when we get better at it. But it's worth the experience. It's worth working on. And it's worth knowing that sometimes we'll do well, sometimes we won't. There's lots of perspectives out there. And the best way to get those perspectives is listening.

Cristina Amigoni  1:00:31 
It is, so we really hope you listen to this podcast. We did all the talking.

Alex Cullimore  1:00:38  
Thanks so much for letting this be a one way listen. Thank you guys so much for joining on this week of Uncover The Human.

Cristina Amigoni  1:00:46 
Thank you and see you next week. Thank you for listening to Uncover The Human, a SIAMO podcast.

Special thanks to our podcast Operations Wizard Jake Lara and our Score Creator Raechel Sherwood.

If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts.

Alex Cullimore  1:01:05 
We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at or at our website, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W E A R E S I A M O.

Cristina Amigoni  1:01:24 
Until next time, listen to yourself. Listen to others and always Uncover The Human