Another story that I love to tell takes me back to a class in my MBA studies at The University of Michigan.    My major was finance, but as in all curricula there were  ‘core’ courses that everyone has to take and this one was Organizational Design and Human Resources Management.   On this particular day we were involved in a role play.   Four people in a group.  Two observers.  One supervisor and one subordinate.  The supervisor had just received a complaint from a customer about the subordinate (an outside sales representative) and had to deliver the news and develop an action plan.  I was the supervisor in our group.  After the ‘plays’ the entire class reassembled and discussed the results – led by the observers.

One of the observers in our group got up and said he didn’t like the way the supervisor in our play asked unrelated questions at the start of the meeting ‘how are you?’, etc.  He said the off topic questions were off topic and seemed underhanded.   My hand shot up so fast I almost dislocated my shoulder.   The instructor picked me and I related a story about why this lead in was a concious strategy.

I had a manager of a supplier that I dealt with on a day to day basis.    As with many manufacturing facilities, each day presents its unique ‘pile’ of challenges.  Some larger and deeper than others.    If he was having a good day, I could take a direct method and we could get right to the problem.  If he was having a bad day, throwing another one at him in a direct method would only insure it hit the side of the stack and bounced off.    I explained that is why such questions are vital.   It didn’t matter I was dealing with a subordinate.

Listening first  always gets peoples attention.   Listening leads to understanding and the foundation of every good connection and relationship.   The person in my group who commented was headed to be a poor salesperson.   I hope they found some help along the way.  Not from our instructor.   The look on his face as I was explaining it was like deer looking into you know what.    Big school research, statistics and all that and too far removed from real interpersonal skill development.

Who hasn’t met that person who has the answer to all your problems, but they never let you talk enough to tell them your problem?  They are talking up a blue streak down one path when you are trying to go another.  Its the foundation of almost every misunderstanding I can remember.  Somebody talked too much.   Thought too much about where they were and wanted to go an not enough about where the person or people they were talking to were and wanted to go.  It’s how you make deals, win negotions, followers and almost anything else you want.  You learn by listening, not by talking.

My father in law has a great saying that sums it up “You can sit there and look the fool, or speak and remove all doubt”.    Another favorite is “God gave us two ears an one mouth in an intentional symbolic relationship of  how much they should be used”.  Listen first.  Talk second.  Good advice.


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