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Developing Authentic Listening Skills with Dan Oblinger, Ep #78

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“I have discovered that most people have no one to talk to. No one, that is, that really wants to listen. When it does at last dawn on a man that you really want to hear about his business, the look that comes over his face is something to see.” – Wesley Hill

Why is listening a vanishing art and hard to do effectively when it’s really so simple? When was the last time you viewed listening as a skill that can be taught, developed, and nurtured over time? In today’s hyper-connected, digital age of chaos, conflict, and confusion, we are more connected than ever to other people. But are we also on the brink of an epidemic of loneliness? Dan Oblinger—the author of Life or Death Listening: A Hostage Negotiator’s How-to-Guide to Mastering the Essential Communication Skill—joins us to talk about authentic listening. Dan delivers the toolkit we’re searching for—don’t miss this episode.

Outline of This Episode

  • [4:10] Dan Oblinger’s background
  • [5:40] Why are we starved of genuine listening?
  • [7:59] The difference between hearing and listening
  • [9:55] Why does listening fade and die in our relationships?
  • [14:31] Listen to people because of what they are—not who they are
  • [22:00] How to develop mastery of listening
  • [24:38] How to come to terms with a bruised ego
  • [26:26] Dan’s 8 active-listening skills to master
  • [29:52] How do we build an organizational culture around listening?
  • [33:31] One more skill to practice to improve listening skills
  • [36:53] How to connect with Dan Oblinger

The difference between hearing and listening

Dan raises chickens and has learned they have excellent hearing. If you shake seed in a bucket, chickens come running from across his ten acres of land. That’s “hearing” at it’s finest. It’s an automatic function that happens in our brains—an incredible biological process.

But chickens don’t listen. Listening happens in the soul. The mechanics appear to be the same—but the result is a human connection. They open up to you and you form a deeper relationship that hearing alone cannot accomplish. When hearing is used in a place where listening should be, that relationship is on shaky ground. Hearing doesn’t develop trust or allow you to become influential or persuasive in those lives that you ought to be.

Listen to people because of what they are—not who they are

True listening is an exercise in empathy, which requires us to recognize the immeasurable worth of other people. You need to listen to people because they’re human, not because they come with some inherent purpose. We owe them the dignity of listening to them. Society is so polarized and we want to silence those we don’t agree with. How do we manage our own biases to ensure that everyone gets the right to be heard?

The listening skills—and Dan’s philosophy that is practical and based on experience—is built for conflict. It is the ultimate answer to the problem of human disputes. Listening is the antidote for disagreement. Unfortunately, society uses conflict as a reason not to listen. But every time someone disagrees with something you believe in, your only option is to listen and engage. Find out why you have the difference. If you do this, your biases won’t get in the way. You discover amazing things about them as a human being. They’re NOT an ideological chess piece. That’s when beautiful things happen in our lives. It’s powerful.

Dan emphasizes that human beings are valuable not because of who they are, what they know, or what their skills are. They’re valuable because they have a body, a soul, and dignity. Listening helps us meet people in their humanity.

How to develop mastery of listening

Dan points out that you can never develop true mastery if all you’re trying to do is not screw up. You can achieve mastery and still make mistakes. Mastery requires experimentation, feedback from other people, and a very close and trusted cohort who can hold you accountable to fixing what needs to be fixed. It requires humility. It requires practice.

If you go and engage with someone it can be raw and emotional. You’ll hear things you don’t like. And that’s life. Making a connection relieves the emotion and leads to the truth. We are being programmed to want the perfectly curated sound-byte and move on to the next thing.

People are dealing with a lot. If we don’t connect with them, we are on the cusp of the next great epidemic: loneliness. There’s a loneliness epidemic because we aren’t making real connections with people. Connections with real people sustain us.

Dan’s Active-listening skills

Active listening skills are repeatable and reliable because they meet people where they’re at. Hostage negotiators don’t have the luxury of doing everything about people. Dan lays out 8 active listening skills in his book. One is to ask open-ended questions. You have to ask better questions to be great listeners. You can’t tailor questions to get the answer that you want.

When Dan picks his daughter up from school, his duty is to find out how her day was. But if he doesn’t want a real answer, he says “You had a good day at school right?” It’s still a question, but one that doesn’t get an open answer. He could ask, “How was your day?” But for masterful listening, that still isn’t a good question.

Does what you’re saying invite someone to share their story with you? Is it a question worth answering? Dan doesn’t think that “How are you doing?” does that. What about “What was the best thing that happened to you at school today?” or “What was the worst thing that happened today?” Start converting your questions into the kind of questions that deserve an answer.

How do you build an organizational culture around listening? What’s another skill to practice to improve your listening skills? Dan shares a plethora of helpful information in this episode. Listen to take advantage of his wisdom in the field!

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