Nilofer Merchant is a master at turning seemingly “wild” ideas into new realities, and showing the rest of us how we can, too. A bestselling author on innovation and collaboration, a TED mainstage speaker, and the recipient of the “Future Thinker Award” from Thinkers 50 (who also ranked her in the top 50 management thinkers in the world), Nilofer reveals new ways of connecting our ideas to the world, in an era when the potential to make a difference is wide-open.
Merchant recently wrote an interesting story for the Harvard Business Review on being better at listening and how we can find better ways of getting sharing ideas and convincing people of our perspectives. Here are some excerpts:
A leader had asked 30 of his best and the brightest to gather so that he could hear their input on what he perceived as a marketing gap. But the very design of the meeting meant he would be hearing very little: The agenda called for three hours of presentations and about 15 total minutes of Q&A (if none of the presentations ran over, that is).
I left feeling that he didn’t really want to listen, that what he wanted was to convince the 30 people present of his perspective so that we could become his mouthpiece and fix his “marketing gap” for him. And because of the format of the meeting, I left unconvinced that I wanted to do that.
Even though it doesn’t work very well, this approach is, of course, common — in any setting where one party is trying to convince another party to change, whether that’s in an organization, during a political debate, or at a contentious family dinner. Identify what key ideas could convince them. Find persuasive facts. Enthusiastically share. Beat their facts back with your facts.
This isn’t the way to create lasting change. The best way to sway others is not to tell them your answer, but to arrive at an answer — together. Listening is the key pathway to go from your idea to our idea. To reshape the idea as needed, and to ultimately create the kind of shared ownership that is needed for any idea to become a new reality.
The next time you head into a meeting where a major decision will be made, or important issue discussed, try the following exercise I’ve used to prepare for the workshops I run on innovation and leadership:
Find an index card or sheet of paper (a paper napkin will also do). On one side, write key ideas that could be useful for you to share. I say “could” because you will reevaluate any of it once you learn more. On the other side, brainstorm questions you want to ask and things you hope to learn.
Most of us don’t do that. Most of us listen to the degree we can understand points of agreement or disagreement, or to prepare what to say in response, rather than to learn. But when we do that, we’re not so much hearing other people as we are waiting for our turn to speak.
To listen is to pay attention to. Listening means stepping outside one’s own interests, to actually want to know more, and to care what others’ interests are. To not just hear words, but to pay attention to the underlying needs and frames of reference.
Which gets to why we aren’t already great listeners. We’re afraid that if we’re listening, we’re not advocating for our own ideas and why those ideas matter. We’re afraid we’re giving up on our convictions.
But we can all have more faith in ourselves. And each other.
Read the full article at HBR.