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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

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Thursday, September 14, 2017
BE A RARE LISTENER: An excerpt from THE ART OF CONNECTION by Michael J. Gelb

In his new book, The Art of Connection: 7 Relationship-Building Skills Every Leader Needs Now, Michael J. Gelb writes, “Conjungere ad solvendum is Latin for ‘Connect before solving.’ I’ve made up this motto because through teaching and facilitating innovative thinking for decades I’ve discovered that the most powerful catalyst for inspiring creative breakthroughs, and for translating those breakthroughs into sustainable innovations, is to guide people to connect with one another first, before trying to solve a problem.”

When people connect — when they are on the same wavelength, attuned, in rapport — they are much better at generating, and implementing, new ideas. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt in which Gelb shares how to improve this essential relationship-building skill. 

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Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again. 
— André Gide (1869–1951), Nobel Laureate in Literature

Every book, blog, and LinkedIn post on leadership, parenting, relationships, or emotional intelligence has something to offer about the importance of listening and how to improve this critical leadership competency. Even if, in spite of Gide’s quip, you have been listening, let’s consider how to improve this essential relationship-building skill. 

Listening is like Driving

Ever notice that anyone going slower than you is an idiot, but anyone going faster is a maniac? 
 — George Carlin (1937–2008), humorist

My friends in Los Angeles swear that the worst drivers in the country are to be found on the 405, but anyone from DC will tell you they’re on the Beltway. Folks from New Jersey commiserate about the Turnpike, but Bostonians will tell you that the Callahan Tunnel is the epicenter of bad driving. If you speak with Italians, Brazilians, or Indians, they’ll explain that the standard of driving in their countries makes U.S. drivers look tame. Yet, although people are quick to agree that the general standard of driving leaves much to be desired, most people believe that they are above-average drivers.

Listening is like driving — most people think they are better than average, but that can’t be true. 

The Dunning-Kruger Effect 

In a classic study entitled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning report that in many social and intellectual domains “people who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact.” Dunning and Kruger’s subjects overestimated their prowess in logical reasoning, grammar, and sense of humor. 

Researchers at the University of Stockholm in Sweden posed the question: “Are we all less risky and more skillful than our fellow drivers?” The answer? No! Other studies have found that people often overestimate their popularity, job performance, and relationship abilities.

Bad driving is common, and so is bad listening. Before we explore the art of listening well, let’s consider the everyday manifestations of bad listening.

How do you know when someone isn’t listening? Let us count the ways!

Think back over your last week: 

  • Have you had people check their messages or text while you were trying to speak to them?
  • Have you been interrupted?
  • Has anyone fidgeted, checked his watch, or rolled his eyes at you?
  • Have you had someone fail to make eye contact, look at her device, or change the subject when you were speaking?

Professor Sherry Turkle reports that 89 percent of Americans admit they took out a phone at their last social encounter — and 82 percent say that they felt the conversation deteriorated after they did so. 

And just as you may have been cut off by someone in a rush to get to work or stuck behind a torturously slow car in the fast lane, chances are that at some point another driver felt that you cut him off or that you failed to signal before turning. As you reflect on the bad listening manifestations that you’ve observed in others, please consider the possibility that others may have perceived you as being a less than ideal listener. 

A Bad-Listening Exercise
Take an inventory of your relationships and contemplate with humility and curiosity how you can become a better listener. You can deepen your insight and have some fun by experimenting with the following listening exercise.

For this exercise, you’ll need a partner. Tell your partner about something that interests you. Choose a topic that is meaningful, something that you’d really like to share. You might, for example, offer your thoughts on a political issue, ideas for a vacation you’re planning, or memories from the best concert you ever attended. Your partner’s job is to practice bad listening — to manifest as many nonaffirming listening habits as possible. Your task is to persist in communicating your message. After a minute or so, switch roles. Aim to do a worse job of listening than your partner did.

When this exercise is practiced in a class setting, the results are always fascinating. Tension quickly fills the room, often manifested in near hysterical laughter. Even though everyone knows it’s only a game, the stress generated is palpable. The result is that participants become sensitized to the manifestations of bad listening. This sets the stage for a deeper consideration of listening. 

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Michael J. Gelb, author of The Art of Connection, has pioneered the fields of creative thinking, accelerated learning, and innovative leadership. He leads seminars for organizations such as DuPont, Merck, Microsoft, Nike, Raytheon, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He is also coauthor of Brain Power and several other bestsellers. His website is

Excerpted from the book The Art of Connection. Copyright © 2017 by Michael J. Gelb. 


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