By Dana Dupuis
Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. DE&I, for short.
An important yardstick for thriving, healthy organizations or the latest initiative of the month? Superficial or structural, as this Harvard Business Review article probes?
Sparked by the global reckoning over the racial injustices that plague modern society and fueled by workers’ demands for their employers to take a stand on social issues that were previously taboo at work, many organizations have prioritized DE&I programs and initiatives over the last two years.
How has it gone?
A Gartner article from the past May reports that “Forty-four percent of employees agree a growing number of their colleagues feel alienated by their organization’s DEI efforts, 42% of employees report their peers view their organizations’ DEI efforts as divisive, and another 42% say their peers resent DEI efforts.”
A Connection to Listening
We noticed that “listening sessions” had become a common tool utilized in DE&I programs, so we were thrilled when the leader of a large DE&I team from a global technology company approached us about helping them dig deeper into the art and science of listening.
Our experience has shown that many companies are eager to roll out their DE&I initiatives, but they have not armed their program leaders with the tools that can help them successfully collaborate on the varied, and often controversial, subject matter. Imagine the work these leaders face within this triple-threat arena:
Improving the ability to listen is necessary to ensure productive dialogue and an outcome that enhances humanity among all employees.
Learning about the basic mechanics of how we listen gave the DE&I team a new way to think about what was previously perceived as automatic. Understanding that we hear with our ears and listen, or make sense of what we hear, with our brains was an eye-opening introduction to Listening Intelligence for the team.
When we took it a step further and explained that neuroscience has proven no two brains are alike, which means no two people truly listen the same, this information aligned with the foundational concept of diversity. The fact that we all listen differently can be transformational when we recognize that communication is equally influenced by speaking and listening. What we think about and care about is not only what we listen for but then what we speak about.
Another game changer for the group was learning about the four dominant listening styles:
Connective: listens for what’s important to others, empathetically
Reflective: listens for what's important to oneself, personally
Analytical: listens for facts and data
Conceptual: listens for brainstorming opportunities and possibilities
Understanding the way someone listens helps us better identify what they may or may not pick up in conversation. This not only makes sense but also helped the group recognize how they could shift their own communication to be better understood using the four styles.
When we finished our Listening Intelligence training and the DE&I team got back to work, the feedback we received described how their new awareness of the science of listening improved their effectiveness. Specifically, we heard:
The group as a whole explained that learning the basics of the four different ways people listen gave them a better understanding of why some employees seem easy to work with while others seem more difficult. It is not that their issues are too big or not worth our involvement; the difficulty lies in how they articulate their concerns and how their leaders listen to them. When a leader has a different listening style from the employee, the information gathered seemed to contrast from what the employee intended and often seemed to have missing information.
A story that one DE&I leader shared with us explained how learning about Listening Intelligence helped him appreciate the need to adapt his listening and leadership to succeed with his team members:
“My leadership style is consistent with my listening style. I want the facts and not a lot of fluff. I lead by example and want others to do the same. It’s pretty simple but at the same time it is my way or the highway and not much sways me from that. In the morning of our training we learned about the four listening styles. At lunch I had a call with one of the managers on my DE&I team. I jumped on the call, told her what I needed from her and was quick to try to close down the conversation. All of a sudden I realized I was speaking exactly the way I listen, which is: get it done and don’t waste any time. At that moment, I stopped, took a breath and said, “by the way, how are you doing?” There was a huge pause from my colleague and then she began to talk. She was hesitant at first but then she started to open up. We had about a ten minute call and at the end, she thanked me for taking the time to expand beyond my typical call. I walked away with a new appreciation for her and the start of a friendship that we never had before. I know it was just one conversation, but it was unlike any I had previously. I knew she was more of a Connective listener than I was and by shifting my listening needs to consider hers, we moved our work relationship to a place of mutual respect.”
This team had experienced many different types of professional development training in the past. However, after exposure to training devoted to Listening Intelligence, there was renewed confidence and sign of ease from the team that they had not experienced before. This was because their ability to communicate and truly listen to their fellow employees had been elevated. The act of listening was no longer something they did on autopilot; it was a skill that they now realized was dynamic, and they now had the tools and capability to meet the cares and concerns of others confidently. This is not to say Listening Intelligence training solves all issues, but it does change the trajectory of a conversation from the start when someone feels listened to and heard.