from the world's big
Learn to listen for what people mean, not just what they say
Without sounding like internet hyperbole, this super-simple listening trick can help you better understand people's intentions. And provide a fascinating insight into the minds of others.
Todd Davis is the Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of FranklinCovey, the organizational learning company best known for its popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book series. Davis is the author of FranklinCovey’s Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work. He is also a co-author of Talent Unleashed: 3 Leadership Conversations to Ignite the Unlimited Potential in People. For over 25 years, Davis has delivered numerous keynote addresses and speeches at top industry conferences, associations, corporate events, and for FranklinCovey clients, many of which are Fortune® 100 and 500 companies. His topics include leadership, personal and interpersonal effectiveness, employee engagement, talent management, change management, and building winning cultures.
As the former director of FranklinCovey’s Innovations Group, Todd led the development of many of FranklinCovey’s core offerings containing the company’s world-renowned content, and he continues to contribute to the development of new offerings. Davis has also served as FranklinCovey’s director of recruitment and led a team responsible for attracting, hiring, and retaining top talent for the company, which included over 3,500 employees.
Davis has served on the Board of Directors for HR.com and is a member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Todd Davis is the Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of FranklinCovey, the organizational learning company best known for its popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book series. Davis is the author of FranklinCovey’s Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work. He is also a co-author of Talent Unleashed: 3 Leadership Conversations to Ignite the Unlimited Potential in People.
For over 25 years, Davis has delivered numerous keynote addresses and speeches at top industry conferences, associations, corporate events, and for FranklinCovey clients, many of which are Fortune® 100 and 500 companies. His topics include leadership, personal and interpersonal effectiveness, employee engagement, talent management, change management, and building winning cultures.
Todd Davis: Many of my discussions are centered around someone who has a real issue or bone to pick with someone else. And I’ll listen and I’ll listen and I’ll listen because a lot of times people just want to feel understood. But then when they’re finished feeling understood they feel like they’ve had a shoulder to cry on. I will always ask the question, “I wonder why Jim would have said that? Or I wonder why Gail feels that way?” And the person will usually say something like, “Well I have no idea, I’m not Jim.” And I’ll say, “Well no, I understand that. But if I think about Jim I wonder what motivates him?”
And if I can start a discussion like that more often than not people will say “Well, you know, he was pretty depressed over that issue last year or she got passed over for that promotion so maybe she’s still feeling defensive about that.” And it’s my way of not manipulation at all but helping someone gently but directly start to see things from another’s perspective. And that leads into helping them try to understand what someone’s intent is. And when we can get that type of a conversation going... it’s not always easy... but it becomes easier to start to assume maybe that everyone doesn’t have it out for you or bad intent. But in general people have good intent.
When people have emotions that are high – whether they’re high because they’re frustrated or whether they’re high because they’re happy – first and foremost they just want to be understood. And we listen, through what the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey used to say, we listen through this autobiographical lens. And then we have this autobiographical response. So we listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. But the most effective people and therefore the most successful influential people they listen with the intent to understand.
So reflective listening, and this is nothing new but boy it’s new to practice it because everybody reads about it, hears about it and yet I see them not model it. And I’ll tell you modeling it is magic. When someone says to me, “Gosh, I can’t believe that they put that policy out. I’m so frustrated with this thing and blah, blah, blah, blah.” I will listen, listen, listen and all I will say and it’s not manipulative, it’s just because I want to understand I’ll say, “It sounds like you’re pretty frustrated with the policy.” “Well yeah, I am because…” and then they’ll go on for five minutes or 20 more minutes. And they’ll finish that and I’ll just comment, “So it seems like it’s really got you considering maybe a change in your career.” I’m making this up. But you do reflective listening, take the time to do it you will start to get to the heart of the real issue. And 90 percent of the time it’s not in this case the policy. It’s something way underneath. And all I had to do was listen and reflect back to the person what I’m hearing them say and what I’m thinking they’re feeling.
There is a time then for clarifying questions. Not probing. Not prying. Not trying to judge or agree or disagree, but saying, “So, am I clear in understanding that you think the policy is wrong because of such and such?” That’s a clarifying question. Or “If I understand you correctly that you believe Joe has taken more vacation than anybody else in the department?” That’s a clarifying question. It’s not you’re agreeing or disagreeing. You’re not prying into or trying to figure somebody out. You’re just trying to clarify and understand. It’s like giving someone psychological air or oxygen if you will. And when we take the time to do that we actually start to resolve things much quicker than if we jump in ahead of it.
People like to talk. And when they talk, they often muddy the water about what they really mean because people tend to speak through an autobiographical lens, i.e., "this is my truth because it is from my perspective". Todd Davis, the Chief People Officer at Franklin Covey, has spent much of his career looking for the meaning in what people are saying, and has developed a way to better understand what people are really talking about. That technique is a small adaption to a basic skill that many people forget to do when they talk: listening, and then asking questions based on finding the truth in their perspective. Just doing that (Todd explains the practice in the video much better than I do here - Ed.) can make a world of difference in interpersonal interaction. Todd's latest book is Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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