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  • Writer's picturePaul Marshall

Excerpt from Listening Differently

By Paul Marshall


In summary ...

#1 - Everyone is talking and getting frustrated and upset because nobody is listening, and no one seems to care.

#2 - The solution is to take the focus off getting other people to listen to your speaking, off how you produce the sounds, and instead start listening differently.

#3To help you take care of the things you care about, I am going to give you:

a) a Map that you can use to figure out where you want to go and how to get there,

b) a Compass to guide you through the ups and downs you will inevitably encounter,

c) a Script that you can employ as the foundation for more effective conversations with the people you will have to work with along the way, and

d) the four Bridges you need to cross to build trust.

#4 Remember to check in with your body. It is tough to do anything or go anywhere without it.

#5 - Be patient and ask, "I wonder how what he is saying is different from what I think I already know about this?"


Taking care of what we care about


In the process of writing this book, I discovered that I was writing it for my daughters. That might seem strange in a book focused on helping you build a thriving professional career based on a reputation for reliably delivering outcomes that exceed expectations. They have been with me for a large part of the 30 years I have been on the journey that has led to me writing this book. They have been witness to, and some time subjects of, my successes and failures in learning how to apply the tools and ideas I am sharing with you. They have lived it, so they probably don’t need to read it.


But it is for them.


The golden thread that you will find that runs through this book is connecting with and taking care of the things that we care about. It all starts and finishes there. I care about the world my daughters and their children will have to live in after I am gone. I am concerned not just that it will not be better than the one I have lived in, but that it will be much, much worse.


My earliest attempts at addressing those concerns saw me working with oil companies trying to influence them to improve their environmental performance with my freshly minted PhD in chemical engineering. Tracking and reporting on their performance was easy. Getting people to make commitments to reduce the creation of wastes and the emission of pollutants to water, air, and land was entirely different. It was almost impossible to get people to listen if it wasn’t a legal requirement.


It wasn’t just in the world of multinational companies that I could see people weren’t listening. My desire to improve my communication skills led me to work as a community mediator.


In the hundreds of hours of mediations I conducted across commercial, neighbourhood, and spousal disputes, it was apparent that the majority of them arose because the people involved

i) had a concern they felt was not being taken care of; and ii) did not feel they were being listened to.


It was becoming increasingly clear to me that the skills required to have the sometimes-difficult conversations needed to take care of the things we care about were not being taught in schools, universities, or corporate life. The frustration and wasted effort that resulted was obvious. At the same time, there was a sense that life was becoming increasingly fraught, with the media announcing social and economic unrest almost daily.


It was all pointing towards a future that I did not want. That drove me to look for different ways of being and different ways of working with individuals and teams. I realised that most of the available theories and courses focused on topics such as how to speak with confidence, how to negotiate like a pro, how to pitch or sell, or how to have difficult conversations. They weren’t working, and they didn’t help me understand what was causing us to experience many of those conversations as ‘difficult’ in the first place - or what I could do to change things. The problem seemed to be that everyone was talking and getting frustrated and upset because nobody was listening, and nobody seemed to care.


How big are the problems we face?


Gargantuan. In a 2020 paper, Vision Consulting reported that around 99% of megaprojects, capital projects costing $1bn or more, fail to deliver on their promised benefits on time and on budget. An article on Forbes.com from March 2021 reported the following statistics in relation to technology projects:

"... the Gartner Group reports that 75% of ERP projects fail. Others report that CRM projects fail at nearly the same rate. Big data analytics projects also fail at an alarming rate. Innovation? Clayton Christensen suggested that 95% of product innovation projects fail. Digital transformation fails 70% of the time: McKinsey reports that only 30% of digital transformation projects result in improved corporate performance. There’s failure data everywhere: technology projects fail at an astounding rate at enormous cost to the companies – and executives – who support them. Perhaps the harshest finding is that "90% fail to deliver any measurable ROI."

You can go back a decade and find similar statistics. Something is wrong, and for all the talking, nobody seems to be able to find a way forward. The focus on the dollar cost of these failures is understandable because the numbers are frightening. However, behind the numbers are design, finance, delivery and implementation teams made up of engineers, lawyers, project administrators, accountants, scientists and economists. They are people who, just like you, experience frustration and disappointment and suffer damage to their reputation as a result of those failures. In that respect, the size of the project is almost irrelevant.


I have a solution if you are open to listening differently


Fast-forward to today, and I have realised that you can achieve significantly better results if you learn to listen differently. The best way I can describe what I mean by that without you reading the whole book is to use an analogy. Dolphins are one of the few animals that can use sounds to navigate and locate the things they need to thrive in their underwater world. It is called echolocation. Their skill is not in sending the sounds out but in the different way they can listen to the sound as it comes back to them.


This book aims to get you doing your own form of echolocation by listening differently to the conversations that make up the day-to-day activities of your working life. The tools you are about to discover have forever changed my life and transformed who I am in the world and how I do what I do. I have seen them do the same for others, and I am committed to delivering the same outcomes for you.


I need to tell you it isn’t always easy. It takes practise. The sort of practice that you know you should be doing but probably won’t. That is ok; we will explore why that is and what you can do about it.


The Map, Compass, Script, and the four Bridges will help you be more effective in navigating the daily professional challenges created by an increasingly noisy and uncertain world. Together they enable you to better manage your commitments, reduce uncertainty and unnecessary work, hold people accountable and better control not just how you spend your time and effort at work but what you spend it on and, most importantly, why.


It is not about saying yes to everything that comes into your inbox or compromising the things that are important to you. It is about saying yes to the things you want to say yes to and knowing they are aligned with your values, with the things you care about. It is about building trust within your networks and building your reputation by saying no in a way that people will thank you for afterwards.


By using the Map, the Compass, the Script, and the Bridges, you will become one of the few people who are able to use the skill of listening differently to find their own way and thrive.

Before I continue, I am going to just step out of the book for a second here because I want to bring your attention to something you might not have been aware of while you have been reading. It isn’t going to be a surprise to you, but you have been using your body to take in this first section. Eyes if you have been reading, ears if you have been listening or fingers if you use braille.


I am going to assume that your heart has also been beating and you have continued to breathe. Maybe faster, maybe slower? Maybe all this talk of uncertainty or saying ‘no’ has created some tension in your neck or back or makes you feel uneasy... Point is, whatever work you are doing you bring your body with you. Your body will be responding to whatever you experience and that will change the way you listen. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.


For now, just take a second to notice it.


Based in Brisbane, Paul Marshall is an executive and leadership coach and facilitator. Paul can be contacted at paul@listeningdifferently.com.au and you can find out more about his book at https://www.listeningdifferently.com.au/product-page/listening-differently

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