Betty-Ann's Both Sides Blog

The Listening Scavenger Hunt

Tom Corley spent 5 years interviewing 233 millionaires and reported the 6 habits that made them ultra-wealthy on CNBC Oct 9, 2022. The second habit is, “Self-made millionaires listen more than they talk.” One strategy that came up many times during his interviews was the “5:1 listening rule. In group settings, for every minute they spoke, the millionaires listened for five minutes. This helped them to strengthen their work relationships and get a number of different perspectives on a given issue. And 81% said that they actively sought feedback from others every day, both inside and outside of the workplace”.

Those with good oratory skills are often considered to be natural leaders but true leaders know that opportunities are unleashed from listening. Afterall leadership is not something we do to others, it is something we do with others. While the principles of listening and speaking are simple on the surface it is important to recognize that a successful communication comes from both and as Corley learned listening should outweigh speaking. Maybe that’s why my Grandma used to remind us that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth? Consider it like a scavenger hunt where you are listening to find the hidden leadership gems and business opportunities.

I’d like to be able to say that I have always been a good listener, but unfortunately that is not the case. Once I served on a board that represented a very fractured and polarized community. One side saw value in the organization and the other wanted it disbanded. Neither side gave the other even the slightest leeway. Any positive news released by the board was labeled as lies by the anti-organization group, while the group that favored the organization minimized any negative news and loudly cheered its successes. Both were so entrenched in their positions that all information was used to reinforce their existing belief systems. This combative atmosphere meant that finding common ground was nearly impossible.

Since I was appointed as an independent board member and not associated with either group, each wanted to win me over to their side. They took turns lobbying hard to sway me to their way of thinking. Most days I was a pretty good listener, but on one specific day, I was not. Representatives from the anti-group had arrived at my office without an appointment on a particularly busy day. In spite of being tired and impatient with their continued antics, I agreed to see them and escorted them to the boardroom.

After listening for a short time to their one-sided recycled arguments, which I had heard many times before, I impetuously decided to let them know how childish and unproductive the bickering was. Speaking with the power of conviction, for several impassioned minutes I admonished them for their part in the organization’s deadlock. They sat silent and eyes wide with obvious resentment. Although I knew it was useless and not a good idea, I carried on capitalizing on the opportunity to finally unload. Obviously, I had a lot of pent-up frustration because I concluded the meeting by telling them that I was busy and tired of them wasting my time. I’m not proud of this.

They soon left, but that wasn’t the end of it. Deciding that if I wasn’t for them, I was against them, they then set out to destroy my reputation. They started by writing an inflammatory letter to my company CEO saying that I was unprofessional and calling into question my personal ethics. It was hugely embarrassing to be in such a position, and I beat myself up pretty good for my impulsive antagonistic behavior.

Sheepishly, I reported the incident to the board of the polarized organization at the next meeting. Thankfully, they were very understanding. In hindsight, I can see that I wanted to openly listen to the complaints of the anti-group, but when I realized that anything short of totally acquiescing to their point of view wouldn’t be acceptable, I lost it.

As I demonstrated, those with an excess of Masculine Energy will speak with too much bravado and over-assurance to try and push their ideas through by continuing to speak, even when people have stopped listening. They will monopolize the conversation and not only lose the listener but also the relationship. On the Feminine Energy side, if we listen too much without forming our own opinions, we’ll never find our own voice. A good conversation includes both listening and speaking, where you express your opinion while openly hearing what others have to say. This ability to create a positive flow which overcomes the resistance in ourselves to control the conversation can take years to achieve and it starts with self-awareness.

Here are a couple of things I found helped me be a better listener:

1. Make a commitment to listen to those with whom you disagree. Think how much agony and embarrassment I could have saved myself by leaving my preconceptions at the door of that meeting. It will be difficult at first but listen with patience and without judgment.

2. Ask what is at stake for the other person. Try to comprehend what matters to them, not what you believe matters. As management guru Dr. Stephen R. Covey said, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Listening well can be learned. It may take a little more time and as I showed it demands a readiness to slow down. Learning from those with whom you disagree allows you to let go of expectations and judgments. While this may seem boring it can provide the space to strengthen relationships and benefit from a number of different perspectives.

By listening to another you validate them and a creative force is released that brings fresh ideas to the surface. Maybe that’s the key to those ultra-wealthy that listen 5 times as much as they talk? They discover some extraordinary opportunities that others miss. Let’s take a page from their book and the listening scavenger hunt can begin!