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Find out about having Bill or Richard speak for your corporate or association meeting. Our signature program - "Contented Cows Give Better Milk - Your People, Your Profit" - can help you learn the secrets to creating a great place to work, to attract, retain, and get the most from the top talent in your industry.

By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
December 2006

The first major news story of 2006 was that thirteen West Virginia coal miners were trapped two miles underground in Sago mine. Millions were glued to their TV’s throughout the night of January 3 awaiting word of what was happening down below, in the suffocating blackness that few of us can even imagine.

Around midnight, celebration erupted as it was reported that twelve miners had been found alive. Three hours later, the joy gave way to crushing heartbreak when it was announced that the news was wrong. In fact, only one miner, twenty-six year- old Randal L McCloy, Jr. was the solitary miner who would emerge alive.

What happened? How could they get it so wrong?

Well, for one, the impediments to hearing, and to listening, were formidable. Oxygen masks, garbled radio transmissions, helicopters, other engines, and the crowd all made it hard to hear, let alone listen. But perhaps nothing contributed to the accidental, though critical inaccuracy more than the collective psyche of those on the ground. They desperately wanted to hear of survival. Perhaps they simply heard what they wanted – needed so badly – to hear.

Listening. On its surface, it seems so simple, so natural. We simply let the sound come into our ears, we record, for a brief moment, what comes in, and then we respond. Or not.

For something that seems so simple, so natural, we sure do seem to have a lot of trouble getting it right.

Our work tells us over and over that people simply reserve their best effort for people they believe care about them as human beings. And one of the most convincing ways to let someone know you care, is to listen. Really listen.

While both the words “hear” and “listen” are verbs, the former is passive, and the latter is active. Provided we have the physiology to support the sense of hearing, we hear a thing (whether we like it or not).

Listening, by contrast, is a choice, a willful act. We have to actually do something to listen.

One of us, at the tender age of 43, was fitted with the latest in digital hearing aids, to treat a hereditary early hearing loss. While his wife notices a marked improvement in his hearing, she says the $5,000 they spent on the devices didn’t do much for his listening.

Our willingness to listen seems to be driven, in part, by our perception of how valuable the information we’re hearing is to us. In other words, if you really need or want the information you’re hearing, you bet your boots you’ll listen.

Imagine that you’re on a flight, on a hub-and-spoke airline, and you’ve got an almost impossibly tight connection. (If you’re accustomed to connecting through Atlanta, this will require little imagination on your part.) The flight attendant is reading off the list of connecting gates. You need to hear your city. The PA quality is Edisonian, and the person next to you is ripping off some clamorous, bourbon-induced snores. You’re demonstrating what it really means to listen, actively listen.

The opposite of listening is waiting to talk. Maybe one reason we so often fail at listening is because we excel at its opposite. Just like sneezing while holding your eyes open, it is simply impossible to both speak and listen simultaneously. We would all do well to take the occasional look in the mirror, as a reminder that most of us were endowed with exactly one mouth, and double that ration of ears.

Good leaders have developed the habit of listening. They’ve made it part of their nature. It’s a strategy. Even if you think you’re in the habit of listening most of the time, here are some specific instances when we, as leaders, really need to listen, but often fail to:

* During interviews. Here our tendency to listen for, and therefore hear, what we want to hear really bites us, and bites us hard, with long-lasting implications.
* When addressing the troops. When interacting with a group of employees (or others,) we commonly ask, “how’s it going?”, never stopping to listen to the answer, if there even is one. That’s too bad, because the response can be telling. We would do well to allow (even encourage) the person to respond, and to discern between what we heard, (e.g., “fine”) and what we did NOT hear, as in even a scintilla of enthusiasm.
* Listen to your heart.

Hearing Aids – and we won’t charge you $5000 for these.
1. Be Prepared - Listening is hard work and takes practice. Clear the decks, be ‘in the moment.’
2. Quiet the mind – in the same way that listening can’t take place while we’re talking, it doesn’t happen when we’re thinking about something else. Consciously put all those other thoughts, worries, and problems you’re trying to solve on ‘hold’ while you’re listening to someone else. You can come back and pick them up later.
3. Focus – We all like to talk (brag?) about multi- tasking. This is one area where the concept is just plain useless. Focus on the person you are listening to, nothing more, period.
4. Listen with your Eyes - That’s right, many good listeners listen as much with their eyes (and other senses) as they do their ears. What are the other person’s facial gestures? What is their body language telling you? A good self test is try to remember the color of the other person’s eyes.
5. Listen with Empathy – We listen best when we listen for understanding. It helps to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to appreciate not just what they are saying, but what they are feeling. You can’t do that if you are being judgmental, or readying your response.
6. Ask Questions - As with any good reporter, getting a full appreciation for what the other person is saying (trying to say) necessitates the asking of questions, sometimes tough questions.
7. Take Notes – More than just a symbol, taking notes actually serves to reinforce for your brain what the other person is saying.
8. Play it Back – don’t leave the conversation until you’ve verbally summarized (not parroted) what you’ve just listened to.

Here’s one more thing we’ll ask you to listen to. This time of year, many people choose to share some of what they have with others less fortunate. This year, we’ve chosen to support the USO, an organization that proudly serves the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces. It’s not about the war, but about those who daily sacrifice so much, in the U.S.’s all-volunteer forces. Please visit the USO online, at, and if so inclined, send them a donation.

And finally, we close our final 2006 issue of Fresh Milk by thanking you for being a subscriber, for your interest in our work, and for your comments and interaction throughout the year. For those of you who are our clients, thank you for the privilege and opportunity to serve you. For those who are not... why not?!

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, The New Year, or nothing at all, we both wish you a peaceful, restful, and fun, and we must say it – contented - season – one that will leave you energized and enthusiastic about the opportunities coming in the new year.

If we can be of service to you, please let us know.

Bill and Richard

Leadership...the Workplace...Creating a Great Place to Work...Getting Discretionary Effort from Your Workforce. Every week, we speak to corporate and association audiences about these topics, at conferences, conventions, and management meetings.

Why not yours?

To find out more about bringing in one or both of the authors to speak for your meeting, click on the "Find Out More" link below. OR, pick up the phone, and call our office at 800-940-7006 (that's 904-720- 0870 from outside North America). Or, send us an email and let us know how we can be of service. We look forward to hearing from you.

With more than 30 years' combined experience developing, deploying, and relying on employee survey data, we have the expertise to ensure that your survey process works as it should – each time, every time. In addition to professional survey process management, we’ll provide you the ability to benchmark your scores to some of America’s best workplaces.

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If you'd like to take us up on this offer, please contact us.
Check our speaking calendar to see if we may be in your neck of the woods between now and the end of the year. If so, you can receive a 20% discount on our fee, plus save on travel expenses if you book one of us to speak for your group the day before or after an existing engagement in the same area (schedule permitting).

If you'd like to take us up on this offer, please contact us.

Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
Contented Cow Partners, LLC

phone: 904-720-0870
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