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Listen Well Interview: Cory Garrison


I recently interviewed Cory Garrison of R.E.L. for my Listen Well series.

Cory comes to listening from a sales and relationships perspective, and he and his company, as Doug predicted, had some interesting perspectives and methods that you might enjoy.

You can read what follows, or you can listen online.

Brett: Hi Cory.
Cory: Hi, how are ya?
Brett: I'm here today to talk to you about listening. I was handed off to you and I heard that you have a unique perspective on the whole thing.
Cory: Okay... well, I hope so!
Brett: Well, you know... so in your job, and you work for REL-
Cory: R.E.L.
Brett: R.E.L. - right - okay. By the way, is that owners' initials?
Cory: It actually is. Rod, Eric, and Larry are the original founders of the company.
Brett: You are...
Cory: My title is Client Development Consultant.
Brett: And your job is to go get new business.
Cory: In a nutshell, yeah. It's to build awareness about who we are and what we do and to drive new business through the door, and also to manage that business once a new client has started working with us.
Brett: Sure. And you guys have a blog too, right?
Cory: Yes, we do.
Brett: But it's more of a company blog, not just an individual blog.
Cory: It is a company blog.
Brett: Because I've noticed that all of you will contribute articles to that. So did that start with you or did that start before you?
Cory: You know, it actually started before me. The blog did itself. Mark True, who is our Brand Warrior, had his own blog, and it was called "A Little Bit of Mark," I believe is what it was called at the time. That's over a year ago now, and he was primarily - he did all the writing on that. But it was all tied to what we do, which is help clients tell their story. We're storytellers. About seven, eight, nine months ago, we actually turned it into a company blog, the title of which is "Stories by R.E.L." Again, because the idea is to help clients tell their stories.
Brett: Sure. That's great, then if you guys are storytellers, then I'm assuming that before you can tell the story you have to hear the story.
Cory: Absolutely.
Brett: How do you do that?
Cory: Well, it starts - every client starts with what we call the Brand Discernment process. We use that word "discernment" a lot. And I think the word, discernment, that word in itself, I think, lends itself - I don't know how to describe this - but it sort of lends itself to - what you're talking about - about listening. We have to allow - we have to give our clients an opportunity to tell their story. We have to listen to very specific details about their story and ask very important questions. We ask hard, difficult questions. We have to make our clients really think about what they're telling us. The idea, ultimately, is to create a story, but it's to help tell their story in a way that is what we call D.I.R.T.Y.

D.I.R.T.Y. is an acronym for Different, Inviting, Relevant, Truthful, and Yours - they have to own it. They have to believe in it. And that takes a lot of listening, a lot of deep listening, a lot of thinking, and a lot of difficult asking of questions.
Brett: So do you ever have clients come to you who are reluctant?
Cory: Yes. Most of the time.
Brett: How do you deal with that?
Cory: Once our clients begin the process, usually they come to us for one very specific reason and it's because there's pain. They're stuck - in one way or another. Whether it be through they're just not driving enough revenue into their organization, which is typically - I would say that's probably the most common problem. They're having growing pains. They're having a lot of turnover issues. Whatever it may be, it's usually an organization that is stuck and they're having trouble moving forward. When you start asking question about who they are and what makes them different, inviting, relevant, most of those companies have a really tough time answering that question.
Brett: Is that because they're too close to it to see it? Or...
Cory: That's a pretty good analysis. I think so, because we argue that there is something about every organization, just like every person - every human being - there's something that is different and inviting about them. Maybe they're afraid to express it. Maybe they haven't taken the time to figure out what that is. It could be a number of different things. Maybe they started in doing business in a way that was different, inviting, and relevant, but through growth and through not staying on task - you know, it's very easy to start in one direction and follow opportunities - becoming opportunistic in the way you do business. And pretty soon, you're doing things you don't know how to do, you don't want to be doing, and maybe it's not really your bread and butter, and you find your organization in an entirely different place than where you started.
Brett: You know, that's an interesting concept - the idea that opportunities could be misleading, away from your true calling.
Cory: Absolutely.
Brett: That's absolutely true though.
Cory: It's true. And what happens is that you're having a bad month, or you don't really have anything on the docket, and an opportunity is standing in front of you, and there's money involved.
Brett: Right. And we can keep the business afloat this way.
Cory: That's right. If we just do this, and then we'll get back on track.
Brett: ...and then that leads to...
Cory: We know this isn't who we are or what we do. We challenge our clients, once they really understand what it is that makes their brand D.I.R.T.Y., to use that to make their decisions. When you have an opportunity like that in front of you, [they can ask], "Does it match up with our brand? Is it who we are?" You can use that for new business. You can use that when you're talking about hiring new employees. I think it's a big big part of your brand. I was in recruiting for many years, and I can't tell you how many companies are just desperate to fill seats, but they don't really take the time to make sure that somebody really matches, not just a skillset, but from a personality set - "Is this a really good fit for us?"
Brett: Because every business is just the sum of its employees, ultimately.
Cory: It really is. Ultimately, it is.
Brett: If you bring in a bunch of people who are not a fit for your company's culture or mission-
Cory: -oh yeah. And not even a bunch. It can happen with one person.
Brett: That's true.
Cory: If you have a small organization and you bring in the wrong individual, it can really cloud the water. If you understand who you are as an organization, what your DNA is, and the kind of people that make up that organization, then you can make certain decisions from a recruiting standpoint that will help attract the same kind of people. But if you're just opening the door and saying, "Hey - we need to fill some seats," well, you could get lucky, and fill those seats with people that fit, but the odds aren't very good and that's what creates turnover and turnover's very expensive. And that leads you down a whole different road of problems and issues.
Brett: Sure. You know, I'm thinking about this opportunities leading people astray from their mission... I think that's personally true too, not just corporately true.
Cory: No question about it. It's sort of, in some sense maybe, a new way of looking at things. I think that there was a time where really it was about just going and doing a good job and getting your paycheck. But now people, it seems to me, oftentimes need to be more connected to the kind of work they do. And some sort of passion, and I think that's okay.
Brett: Yeah, I think people want meaningful work that will stretch them in the direction that they want to go.
Cory: Sure, and I think people ignore their passion a lot. It's very easy to do. You gotta pay your bills, but you don't... or you think that something is too far out of reach. And I think an organization could think that way too.
Brett: So we talked about whether or not sometimes your clients might be reluctant. Or maybe they might be ignorant really of where some of these things are. So how do you pull that out of them?
Cory: The Brand Discernment process that I talked about is led by Mark True, our Brand Warrior. Mark has an uncanny ability to listen to what people are saying. And he has a way to decipher the truthfulness in that. You know, we take these organizations through your typical SWOT analysis. We actually start with the aspiration. "Where do you wanna be? Where do you wanna be when you grow up?" And then we go back to the beginning. Tell us about your history, what's worked, what hasn't worked, what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses. Take everybody through a SWOT analysis and we just compile all of that information then. Once it's all done, it can take a full day, sometimes it can take a couple of days to get through this process. And then we begin to break that down. We put it in a document format. And what happens then is we begin to see some of the patterns and some of the things that, some of the decisions they've made, but typically what you really get out of that is their story. Okay, who are these guys and what makes them good at what they do. And we begin to see things that make them different, that make them inviting, and that make them relevant. And once we've done that, we can decipher where they need to focus their attention, depending on what they really want to aspire to. Once we've done that, we begin to design strategies that are gonna help them get there. See, usually, people start with the tactic. "We need people to know who we are, so let's advertise." And they go spend a bunch of money advertising. That's not necessarily - it may be a good decision and it may not. At that point, really, you're guessing. What we identify from that Brand Discernment process are their critical issues. These are two, three, or four things that are really prohibiting you from moving forward. This is why you're stuck - 1, 2, 3, 4 - these are your critical issues. We take those critical issues, and we build strategies around those critical issues - strategies to address the critical issues. From those strategies come certain tactics. And now we're down to the tactical level, which is maybe there's gonna be some money put into advertising. But again - we're not guessing about that. We've figured out that we need to reach an audience, but it's become very purposeful. We're not guessing.
Brett: So you started out as a video company, but you also do business consulting.
Cory: The way we've described it sometimes is that we look a little bit like an advertising agency, a little bit like a therapist's office. You know, all kind of mixed into one. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?
Brett: Right.
Cory: They just got tired of being order takers, and being, you know, video and web producers. They had the video production going and there was some opportunity to add some web development, so they did. There was some opportunity to add some graphic design, so they did. Again, they were growing in a very opportunistic way - the way most companies do, without any real plan. And I think that really they just got tired of taking the orders - and I think that they felt like they were doing a lot of this work without any kind of knowledge about what it was going to do for the client. Okay, we're gonna make a lot of money off of it, but what does this do for them? How do you know you need a web page?
Brett: Well, it's what they asked for, so we'll just do that.
Cory: Right, right. That's exactly it. How do you know you need video? How do you know?
Brett: How is it that you find vendors, customers, people like that - how do you get in there and start talking to them about the company to get a better picture.
Cory: Well, you know, it's like this. [gesturing at the two of us sitting down to talk] It really is.
Brett: So do you go to the company and say, "Can I have your vendor list? Who can I talk to?" What do you do?
Cory: No. You know what? Every bit of business that I've brought in has been through relationships that I built outside of the organization. Every time. So it's through somebody that I know. When I sit down and start talking to people about their business, we'll meet over coffee. It's always just a "Hey - let's get to know each other, let's get to know our businesses," and see if there's any synergy there for whatever reason. We do not have a very typical sales model. It really is about just sharing of information. Tell me about you, tell me about your organization. What's great about your organization. What's holding you guys back? All of those things. And you can spend enough time just... and I don't - I never try to size somebody up to say, you know, have this first impression whether or not they're going to fit my organization or not - could they be a client. It always comes in time. Because oftentimes, you just know that they're not gonna be, but inevitably there's always someone else that I can introduce them to. "You know who you should meet? You should meet so-and-so." Or if you're telling me about the issues your organization's having, then I might have a solution. Or I might know somebody that has a solution. And that's what I like to do. I think organizations are like, you know, nearly all have a certain level of dysfunction to them. If there's a lot of dysfunction, ultimately, that's going to catch up to you, and you're going to have some unhappy employees, or people are going to end up leaving, or something's going to happen to throw a cog into that wheel. Is cog the right word?
Brett: A wrench in the works.
Cory: A stick through the spokes. Whatever it is. So just by conversation you begin to learn about organizations and how you might be able to play a role into getting them on the right track. And really, what I've noticed thus far in the year that I've been here is when I start to tell people about R.E.L., and what we do and how we do it, it strikes a chord with people. We have a different way of doing business. When I tell people what we do and how we do it, they really begin to pay attention. And it's kind of like that... there's almost like a sense of, "Oh my god, that's what we need!" And there's not many organizations who don't. Some are in more pain than others. But I really believe we can alleviate a lot of that pain. So that's how the conversation always starts. It's primarily I want to know about that person, about their role and about their organization. And if I have an opportunity, if they ask, to tell them about us, then I'll do so. And that usually happens at some point. But really it's about relationship building. And it's about listening and offering suggestions. The best sales book I've ever read - and I've only read like two good sales books ever - and I'm a reader! - but the best sales book I've ever read is by a guy named Mahan Khalsa. He runs the sales and business development practice area for Franklin Covey. He wrote a book called "Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play." Part of his theory is "Start anywhere, go anywhere." It's about just sitting down and just letting the conversation happen. You go in with these preconceived notions, and you're gonna walk out disappointed. If you walk in, and your goal is to get this sale or close this deal... sales in general is a very dysfunctional occupation.
Brett: It's very funneled, how it tries to channel things.
Cory: Completely. It's a silly silly thing. And that's why I love being at R.E.L. so much. They buy into Mahan's theory of start anywhere go anywhere - you don't force anything. You let the conversations happen. The opportunity will present itself somewhere along the way. But for me and primarily my role is to be building that relationship and to be networking and getting to know more people and what's happening is that eventually somebody will say - you know people are always talking about their businesses and talking about their problems - "Have you talked to Cory Garrison over at R.E.L.?" And I get a phone call, or I meet somebody: "Oh, I've been meaning to call you." Or I'm introduced to somebody and I get the opportunity to tell them what we do, but I'm never trying to force anybody into coming in and taking part the Brand Discernment process. You know, it's like somebody who has a drinking problem. "I'm fine. I can handle it."
Brett: I don't need any help.
Cory: And if you think about it, entrepreneurs - Hey I built it myself - bootstrap mentality. I don't need any help - we can fix it on our own. We get a lot of those people.
Brett: So when you guys diagnose - maybe that's a poor word - when you guys determine what the problems are - when you've discerned the different things that need to be done... you've got quite a bank of talent here: the graphic designers, video production, the other things... do you have like organizational psychologists here too? Because actually what's interesting to me is that from the outside, when I came in, [R.E.L.] started out as a video place, right? Here's our graphic designers and our web guys and everything else. And yet, I find that most of the stuff we've talked about so far really gets into the realm of, like you said, therapy and organizational psychology and trying to fix the dysfunction within an organization. How does that translate into video? But how does that also - what do you do in house to help steer those things and are the companies you work with really prepared for that part of what you do?
Cory: Sometimes they are and sometimes they're not. Again, keep in mind that the idea here is to help organizations tell their story. And that's really what all of that is designed around. Great design, great web sites, video production. These are the things that are going to help you tell your story. Building a great blog, whatever that may be. But before you can tell that story, you've kind of gotta clear out all the minutiae. You gotta, you know, use the mental floss and clear everything out. And understanding who you are - remember when we were talking a little while ago if you know and understand your brand you can make better decisions. You can make more purposeful decisions that make sense for the organization. That's all in sort of building that storytelling. You start with understanding what you brand is, and understanding who you are, and once you sort of talk through all this stuff, you really start to see people nodding their heads. Yes, that's right - that's true. It's sort of like reigniting or helping people remember, you know, why did we start this in the first place? Why are we doing this when it's not even in our skillset? Why are we ignoring this when that is our core? And that's the therapy part of it - helping them bring all that to the surface. One thing you asked earlier that I never addressed is you asked me if we, do we talk to other people. You know, you might three or four other people in this room, how do you find out the truth? And that's part of it.
Brett: Because my opinion of myself is not correct.
Cory: That's exactly it. Or at least it's going to be - that's one person's opinion, but you have all these other people looking at you. In our Brand Discernment process, we have a spot in there we call the Reality Check. And that Reality Checking - it looks, it can look different depending on the situation, but oftentimes it's doing a survey, an employee survey. We've gone a sat down and interviewed employees of our clients before and just asked them questions and gotten some really really interesting responses.
Brett: I suppose.
Cory: Oftentimes, it's very accurate. Sometimes, it's not so accurate. You know, you can tell some of the employees - we did this with one of our clients, and we took them through the Brand Discernment process about a year ago. When we went through and did a Reality Check with their employees, there was one employee in particular that had a different story than everybody else did. In other words, the owners, the employees really seemed to be on the same page. But they really didn't know how to communicate who they were, and they were taking on a lot of business opportunistically also because they didn't know how to get out and tell their story in a meaningful way. We helped them do that, but there was one individual who was really telling a different story than everybody else. And you knew that that person was not going to be around very long. You just knew it. They really didn't buy in to who the organization was. They weren't a fit, and you knew it and the guy's not there any more. I could have predicted it. I saw it back then - he's a short-timer. And you just knew it. But yeah, we've done surveys with customers, employees, and you really get a lot of good feedback from that. That's the Reality Check, and it's very very helpful.
Brett: That's cool.
Cory: Yeah.
Brett: So how would you define listening?
Cory: That's actually - that's a tough question. You have to remove the selfishness. When you sit down with somebody, it can't be, "What are you gonna do for me?" I try to look at it from the opposite way as "What is it that I can do to help this person?" It's not always about, "Can this guy's company be a client of mine?" You know, we may get there sometime, but what I love to do, and this I guess is from all my years in executive recruiting, was helping people make connections. That's really about - that's really what I love to do is help people make connections that's going to somehow help them move forward. And you can't do that unless you really pay attention. And it's not just about - this is really cliché, right? - but hearing and listening... it goes beyond... you sort of have to read between the lines when people arte talking and telling you something because there's... I guess it's about being selfless and engaging and figuring out what it is you can do to help move somebody forward. When I think of listening, especially in a business environment, that's what I think about. And sometimes it's just being a sounding board. I've learned that the hard way - in marriage mostly. People don't always want an answer.
Brett: Right. Sometimes it's just talking stuff out. And people always move better and more passionately on something if they come up with it themselves or if they realize it for themselves - even if you give them the beginning of it, for them to make it their own and then move forward with it, as opposed to just advice advice advice.
Cory: Well that's exactly right. If you're asking questions along the way that are meaningful, and that make sense, to help somebody kind of get to that point and sometimes you can see that on their face when they come to that realization: "I know exactly what the answer is." You don't have to give them advice. But then you can ultimately help somebody - again I'm thinking back to a business environment which is to help you with your issue or your problem or your frustration. Maybe I got you closer. And I think ultimately if you're doing that - if you're engaging and you're actively listening and participating in that conversation... I mean, ultimately in some way it's going to come back to you.
Brett: If I could encapsulate the whole thing... it's not always important to be the sole solution at the end of the day... instead, more being a conduit toward the solution because then people realize, people then will value what you do and what you have to offer, not because you gave them the answer, but because you helped them get to the answer, whatever journey that led them on. What I'm hearing you say - whether I'm giving you the whole solution or just help you along the way, if I'm selflessly hearing what you're saying, in a way that I can help you, then you're going to have the desire to come back to me again and again because I am a solution provider. I act as a conduit toward solutions.
Cory: I couldn't have said it better myself.
Brett: I just paraphrased. So I was gonna ask you then, who would be a really good person for me to talk to who might have an interesting perspective on listening?
Cory: That's Mike Wagner. I don't know if he's been referred to you yet or not. Mike, in my opinion, is one of the most amazing people I've met since I moved to Des Moines. The other guy, and I'll get you his number, he's a guy that I've never spoken to directly, but we've had conversation via our blogs, and his name is Steve Harper. He is in Austin, Texas. He's written a book and his blog and his business are all - it's called The Ripple Effect. And it is all about making a rippling effect on the environment and the community and the people around you. It's about networking. It's about listening. It's about creating. And he really comes off to me as a brilliant guy.
Brett: Thanks Cory.
Cory: Thank you very much.


1 Comment
Tags: relationships | listening | interview
by Brett Rogers, 8/30/2007 12:25:38 AM

Paul Valéry


An interesting guy named Paul Valery said this:

"Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees."
Pretty pithy. I think you can substitute "listening" for "seeing" and have an equally true statement.
"Listening is forgetting the name of the person one hears."
Check out what else he had to say:
Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.

The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.

What others think of us would be of little moment did it not, when known, so deeply tinge what we think of ourselves.

A businessman is a hybrid of a dancer and a calculator.

Love is being stupid together.

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.

If some great catastrophe is not announced every morning, we feel a certain void. "Nothing in the paper today," we sigh.

The painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.

The world acquires value only through its extremes and endures only through moderation; extremists make the world great, the moderates give it stability.

There is no word in isolation.

Thinker! That ridiculous name, and yet one could find a man who would be neither a philosopher nor a poet, not definable by the object of his thought nor by his quest after some exterior goal, such as a book, a doctrine, a science, the truth . . . but who would be a thinker in the same way as one is a dancer, using his mind the way the dancer uses his muscles and nerves . . . an artist not so much of knowledge but of himself.

That is such a feast of provocation on which to savor...

A friend of mine who also enjoys quotes and the thoughts of others is Tony Gallegos, who is, in my esteem, the most exceptional mortgage industry blogger out there. Any company who retains him enjoys a bounty, to be sure. His latest burst of quotes are found here.


Tags: listening
by Brett Rogers, 7/30/2007 3:18:00 PM

Solutioning America


President Bush is a lousy listener.

A businessowner hosted a roundtable on healthcare and small business, which President Bush attended. The result?

"He answered his own questions."
Which is pretty dumb.
"I thought the whole concept was to ask us, so I was a little bit frustrated. I would have liked the opportunity to give him my viewpoint, rather than him knowing the answer."
This entrepreneur, Clifton Broumand, happens to believe as I do on the subject of healthcare: that all children should be covered, and he gives a great reason.
"My personal feeling is that the plan should be to cover every child, whether it's private or federal," he said. "When you don't cover children, what ends up happening is that when kids are sick, which happens in my office, parents aren't productive. They have to go home."
Also like me, he doesn't see the government as an answer to this. He doesn't say why a government-run health system is not his choice, but for me, government is never an efficient answer for anything. And like Michael Moore, Mr. Broumand hates insurance companies.
The [insurance] plan he offers to his 28 employees costs $300 a month for individuals and $800 for family coverage. The business pays $5,600 a month for health insurance - more than it spends on rent - and premiums have increased 73 percent since 2003, he said.

Private insurers "are like the Godfather - they make you an offer you can't refuse," Broumand said. "When my insurance goes up 73 percent in four years, that's a tax... All these things are hidden taxes."

So what is the answer?

It might be in P2P insurance... which takes the profit motive out of the equation, while keeping the inefficiency out of it.

P2P will utterly change the face of the financial industry in the next 10 years. It will touch every financial product on the market. It will be interesting to watch as it unfolds...

I'll be creating an ongoing series called "My America." It will give what I think are the directions in which America ought to move, one of which will be covering healthcare costs for all children - but not for adults. I'll give my reasons later.

In the runup to the 2008 elections, I think it would be cool if bloggers would voice their ideas and opinions about the direction they think America should go. I believe that we the people are much smarter collectively than the politicians who greedily run this country for their own interests. So perhaps if bloggers jump in with a bunch of good ideas, one or more of those ideas will stick and bring solutions to life.

After all, you never knows who's listening.


Tags: listening | my america
by Brett Rogers, 7/24/2007 9:12:16 AM

Listening: A Definition


In this series on listening, I don't think I've really defined the word. What is it?

The American Heritage dictionary gives it as:

1. To make an effort to hear something: listen to the radio; listening for the bell.
2. To pay attention; heed: "She encouraged me to listen carefully to what country people called mother wit" (Maya Angelou).
"Make an effort." "Pay attention." Ears are implied, but not exclusive.

If I could, I'd like to give my own definition.

Listening is not an auditory function, but a focused act of receptivity by one's whole body and mind. You hear with your ears; you listen with your soul, open wide.
If a definition for conversation is that two people enter into it willing to emerge a slightly different person, then listening is the openness to become changed in response to what someone else communicates to us.


1 Comment
Tags: listening
by Brett Rogers, 7/6/2007 9:23:40 AM

Listening: A Self-Assessment


I highly recommend Dorothy Leeds book, The 7 Powers of Questions. I've based the following 10 questions from a quiz in her book. Give a simple True or False to each question.

1. Sometimes, I get impatient when listening to others and finish their sentences for them.

2. I make clear eye contact with the person to whom I am listening.

3. Sometimes, people tell me that I am not listening to them.

4. When listening, I spend more time trying to see the other person's perspective than I do thinking of what to say next.

5. When I can't give my full attention, I let the other person know.

6. I think it's appropriate to interrupt whenever I need clarification.

7. How well I listen depends on the person speaking.

8. I can listen and multitask at the same time.

9. I never need to take notes, as I remember conversations quite well.

10. When I meet someone and I hear their name, I generally remember it.

How'd you do?

A bit of comment about each one...

1. Any time that you finish someone's sentence for them, you're making an assumption. That can be dangerous. Some people use this method as a segue for themselves to talk again. Personally, I do this when I think a person is struggling for a word - I try to supply what I think works best for where I thought the conversation was going. But it can be offensive and frankly, it's an assumption on my part. I think it's best not done unless asked.

2. I make an effort to do this, but for some people, it's distracting for them to make clear eye contact, so they look aside. My former platoon sergeant in the Army did this all the time. He never looked you in the eye when in conversation. It turned a lot of people off and they didn't trust him, for that (and other reasons), but it does give that impression.

3. We can get defensive when we're told that we're not listening. If this is said to you, take it for what it is and double your effort to remain silent and let the other person speak fully. If you want to say this to someone, be careful - because they'll likely jump on you if you interrupt them in any way. Might be best to write an email later.

4. Seeing the perspective of someone else is sometimes hard because their experience doesn't always fit neatly into how we see the world. Ask the person for help to see it from their side if you're struggling. They'll generally be quick to help you.

5. Ever tell someone, "I'd like to give you my full attention, but now isn't the best time for me?" It can feel rude, but it's better than missing what they say. Especially when they ask you about it later.

6. You have to be careful with interruptions. If it has to be done to get clarification, best to make it very brief and not use the opportunity to launch into your own speech. You'll know that you're doing this right when you find that you're asking a one-sentence question and then waiting for the response.

7. Of course, this is true for everyone. I listen to my wife, Tamara, much more intently than I listen to the checkout guy in Best Buy. But remember that we're always leaving an impression, so it's best to make the best effort for the circumstances.

8. I have yet to meet the person who listens well while multitasking. There are times when it's unavoidable, but either the task or the listening will suffer.

9. I also have yet to meet the person with a photographic memory. Conversations don't always need note-taking, but they do require some humility if we remember it wrong. Better to look for the intent of what was spoken than what we remember to actually have been said.

10. There are people who really have a tough time with faces and names. Heard of face blindness? I think some folks probably have a true "name blindness" as well. But that said, people are flattered when we remember their name. Doing so will improve our ability to have good relationships.


Tags: dorothy leeds | listening | relationships
by Brett Rogers, 6/28/2007 5:43:45 PM

Pay Attention


Rush Nigut makes a wonderful point about the importance of being observant, and he separates listening from observation in saying in the comments, "You need to observe rather than listen." I think both are equally important. I'll explain...

A few years ago, I was trading email with my friend, Bella, and she said something that stuck with me: she said that it's all about paying attention. By paying attention, we can salvage any relationship in our lives that might be in trouble, be it with a customer, a friend, or a spouse. People are flattered when you pay attention to them.

Have you ever gone into a store and seen a clerk remember someone's name and favorite order? "The usual today, Mrs. Jones? The caramel cappuccino with a half-twist of lemon and a sprinkle of nutmeg?"

Didn't that person feel important? Didn't you think they were important as you watched this exchange?

Or what about when your significant other hands you your Christmas gift and it's something you mentioned in passing 6 months ago while walking through the mall?

Moments like these cement loyalty big time.

Rush is right - observation is key, and incidents like these show that we are observant.

In his book, The Relationship Cure, John Gottman says this:

While understanding metaphors and all the various forms of nonverbal communication can boost your ability to connect with others, you won't get far without a strong foundation of good, basic listening skills. Your knack for drawing others out and expressing genuine curiosity about their lives can be a real boon to bidding for connection and establishing satisfying relationships. Good listening skills can help you to feel easy in all sorts of social situation, and to build the kind of rapport that leads to solid emotional bonds.
Observation is irreplaceable, and I think the same attentiveness that we show through observation is exhibited in our listening.

Dale Carnegie said:

"You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."
People have to see that we're paying attention. Listening does that in conversation through the use of questions and body language. Observation can too, but I think it's tougher to show it through observation. Because perception = reality, we might be paying devout attention by observing, but I don't know that people would get the message that we're clued in. And they need that. They need to see indications that we're focused on them. Listening, and what we communicate verbally and nonverbally when we do listen, signals that we're paying attention in a more immediate sense than just observation can.

I'm totally diggin' the comments these days. Lots of smart insight, and I hadn't yet considered observation in this thread of Listen Well posts, but I will.

Thanks Rush!


1 Comment
Tags: john gottman | relationships | listening
by Brett Rogers, 6/27/2007 11:12:45 AM

The Steak Around Our Neck


Yesterday, I had two very smart comments from Janet and Bella about what I'd written on the customer always being right heard.

Janet wants to see the second chapter in the short story of Mrs. Jones' complaint about being overbilled. Three hours of service from ABC Plumbing? Pshaw, says she. Mrs. Jones insists that it was two.

Janet sees three options:

  • Strike an hour from the bill because "the customer is always right"
  • Insist Mrs. Jones pay the full bill
  • Offer to split the difference with her
Janet also wonders: how does a company "stand behind its employee, and satisfy the customer?"

What a great question.

Bella, likewise, asserts "whether you like it or not, there will always be a certain amount of giveaway and subservience. That's why it's called customer service."

I love that... customer service, indeed.

So how does a business rectify the situation? Assuming that there is no way to prove either story - two hours or three hours - the business has a decision to make.

I think we've all done business with a company that didn't listen to us at all. We call to air our concern and we wander in a maze of phone menu, or we speak to someone with all the personal skills of cardboard, or we're simply told we're wrong and that's the end of it. Do we feel heard?

In any contention in any relationship, our first best step is to simply listen fully to what the other person has to say. As Stephen Covey says, we should "seek to understand before we seek to be understood." That alone says that we esteem the other person and their point of view. If we stop them from speaking what they need to air, we only compound their frustration. And so as difficult as this may be, we need to be quiet and put ourselves aside for a moment and just listen.

Bella says it well when she says that "most people in situations like this want what is right, not just to be right."

The emotion of it wants to be right. By listening fully and silently, we help subside the emotion of it. And in that relative calm, most people are ready to want what is right.

Sanity lies in having the right relationships in our lives. That applies personally as well as professionally. No business should have a relationship with someone who doesn't want a fair trade. Giving away the store for the sake of maintaining a customer is not good business. While a business owner might feel good about the company wearing a steak around its neck to attract the hounds of the world, it's not worth it. Some customers are not worth the expense.

So to answer Janet's great question: it depends on the value of Mrs. Jones as a customer. If Mrs. Jones always undercuts the word of employees, then it's best to part ways. Mrs. Jones can go be right with some other company. Severing the relationship is best.

But if this is a hiccup in an otherwise sound relationship, and if Mrs. Jones persists in her story, then seeing it her way this one time is well worth it. She liked you before, she had a complaint but found that you listened to her, and she saw that you valued her business enough to see it her way this one time. Her repeat business and now positive experience increases the word-of-mouth marketing that she'll do for your company. The smart move is to let her be right.

We only show integrity when it costs us something, and integrity is an adjective every company craves about itself in the mouths of its customers.


Tags: listening | business
by Brett Rogers, 6/26/2007 8:34:16 AM

The Customer is Always Heard


The "customer is always right" - a business cliché - has the right heart, but the wrong direction. It's not that the customer is always right. Sometimes, the customer is wrong. Everyone knows that.

By saying the "customer is always right," it's an effort to try and satisfy the customer. Satisfied customers come back, you see. Therein lies the logic.

Any business transaction should satisfy the customer - obviously - but it should also satisfy the company. No company stays in business that tries to satisfy everyone by giving away the store.

The right direction is that customers should always be heard. Whether a customer is right or wrong, what matters is that they matter. Customers feel significant and respected when they feel that a company has listened to them.

"Hello... ABC Plumbing? This is Mrs. Jones."
"Hi Mrs. Jones. What can I do for you?"
"You overcharged me."
ABC Plumbing could simply give in to Mrs. Jones and take off the amount perceived as overcharged. After all, the "customer is always right" - right?

There's a better way to move ahead with this.

"We overcharged you? I'd like to know more about that. Do you have your statement handy? I'd like to walk through it with you."
"Yes, I have it right here."
"Tell me the part that you feel is incorrect, if you would."
"It says here that your man worked for 3 hours. That's not true. He was only here for 2 hours."
"I see on my system here that Jason did the work for you that day. I'd like to call him and ask him about this. What's a convenient time to call you back?"
"I'll be home this afternoon."
"I appreciate that you brought this to my attention, Mrs. Jones. Let's get to the truth about this."
"I'll call you back at 2:00. Thank you for contacting us about it."
"Yes. I look forward to getting this corrected."
At this point, whether the time charged her is correct or not, Mrs. Jones has been made a partner with the company in solving her problem. Getting to the truth - whether accurate or not - is now the mission. She knows that the company has completely heard her side of it. She feels valued and important. And if the bill was accurate and she's wrong, Mrs. Jones is more apt to agree to the truth.

Taking the time to listen and then taking action on their behalf cements customer loyalty, not give-aways and subservience. The business owner's chief responsibility to employees and customers is to sustain the business. Listening is the best path for continued success.


Tags: business | listening
by Brett Rogers, 6/25/2007 3:39:18 PM

Lend Me Your Eyes


My first class at Iowa State University was Speech 110: Listening. I took that because I figured that I could only enhance my experience of being lectured for the next few years if I was a better listener.

The first thing that Dr. Kaufmann taught us is that 90% of listening is non-verbal. It's not what you say - it's how you say it. Conversely, it's also not what you hear, but what you see. Body language provides a context through which we hear more than what is spoken. Is a picture is worth a thousand words? Absolutely.

In her book, Listening: the Forgotten Skill, Madelyn Burley-Allen lists 36 non-verbal behaviors. As you read through this tweaked list, based on what she gave in her book, think of how you interpret it when you see someone else do each behavior in conversation with you.

  • Raising an eyebrow
  • Smiling
  • Nodding the head
  • Sitting forward in the chair
  • Remaining silent
  • Frowning
  • Looking away
  • Rolling eyes
  • Opening and relaxing body posture
  • Touching
  • Being attentive
  • Putting a hand over the mouth
  • Not moving
  • Being restless
  • Nodding the head
  • Looking at the speaker sideways
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Sighing
  • Squinting eyes
  • Moving backward/withdrawing
  • Yawning
  • Scowling
  • Reaching out
  • Slumping in the chair
  • Folding arms across the chest
  • Tilting the head
  • Narrowing the eyes
  • Arching the neck forward
  • Stretching
  • Pursing the lips
  • Tapping the foot or drumming the fingers
  • Sudden leg or foot movement
  • Shrugging the shoulders
  • Puffing the cheeks
  • Shaking the head
  • Looking downward
Some are positive, some are negative. It doesn't really matter what is said. Each of these communicates volumes by their very act. Often, these are "spoken" without any thought. They're natural body movements, subconsciously responsive.

So think it through... if you have an important point to make, how do you react to these when you see these behaviors? For those that are perceived negatively, how you do move the conversation forward into positive territory?

Now consider how you respond to others through what you communicate with your body. Are you subconsciously killing conversation by showing that you listen poorly?


1 Comment
Tags: listening | relationships
by Brett Rogers, 6/23/2007 7:24:25 PM

Knock Before You Enter


Ever have someone call you in the middle your busy day and then they launch into something completely unrelated to what you're doing? It's disorienting. It's sometimes abrasive. It can feel like someone busting the door down at your house while you're having dinner.

On the flipside, do you ever do this to others?

Most people will allow you to continue on once they've answered the phone because they don't want to be perceived as rude by dismissing you, but in fact, if you've completely interrupted them, they're only going to catch half of what you say, at best.

Conversationally, how do you politely knock before you enter someone's world? How do you ready someone to hear you before you begin?

It's really about expectation and permission.

Most people don't need much time to switch gears. If you help them with this, you'll have a more successful conversation and both of you will listen better to the other.

Start your part of the conversation with something that respects them and allows them an easy out.

"Hi Sue. It's Brett. Is this a good time, or a bad time, to talk?"


"Hi Jason. This is Brett, and I wanted to know if you have a few minutes?"

By starting with the question and suggesting that it's okay to delay the conversation, you honor their world. What's more, if now is a good time, they've given you permission to proceed, and mentally, they're more engaged, having set down their things, so to speak, to really hear you.

The more you help others succeed at listening, the better your relationship will be.


Tags: listening | relationships
by Brett Rogers, 6/22/2007 4:55:42 PM