Listening

Series 2, Episode 12 | 28 March 2023

Show notes | Transcript

Listening is about actually understanding where people are going and what they are trying to do. You need to listen very carefully not only to what they are saying, but how they are saying it.

On today’s episode of the Circuit Breaker Show, Bob and Greg address one of their guiding principles, listening, particularly in the context of JTBD. You’ll learn about the orientation of the language as they expound more about listening for intent.

Bob will discuss why he is not the biggest fan of small talk. They often argue with their office lawyer over whether words or intent is more important. You’ll find out why Greg believes intent precedes words. They will share different office scenarios to demonstrate how they apply their listening skills.

You will discover why they have multiple people listen when they conduct interviews and what they mean by hypothesis-building research as opposed to hypothesis-proving research. Bob will also tie in Dr. Taguchi’s concept of the signal-to-noise ratio.

Join Bob and Greg for this thought-provoking discussion about listening and words vs intent.

Enjoy!

What You’ll Learn in this Show:

  • How to hone your listening skills.
  • Why active listening is a two-way street.
  • The importance of being aware of one’s own biases.
  • Why companies hire them to conduct interviews.
  • And so much more…

Hosts

Listening – transcript

Bob
As a listener, you have to be vulnerable to ask questions like I just connected with somebody I haven’t seen in a long time. And one of the things they, they finally read the demand side sales, and they basically said something to the effect of like, I didn’t think you were that smart, because you just asked all these questions like you almost like stupid questions. But then I realised like, those questions are actually how you understand everything from context, because at some point in time, standard answers don’t help you. I’m like, Yes, exactly. And so part of this is realising like, at some point, somebody giving you just standard answers doesn’t help either one of them the listening perspective, understand what they’re saying.

Welcome to the circuit breaker podcast where we challenge the status quo of innovation and new product development. We’ll talk about tools and skills and methodologies used to build better products and make you a better consumer. I’m Bob Bester. And I’m the co founder of the rewired group and I’m one of your co hosts. And we’re joined by Greg Engle, who is my co founder and chief Bob interpreter. Join us now as we trip the circuit and give you time to reset reorganise and recharge your brain to build better products.

Greg
So today, we’re going to talk about something and we might have covered it before but I just think it’s something worth talking about. It’s it’s kind of the one of the guiding principles of what we do. So I want to talk about how to listen, the jobs you don’t weigh or, or how to listen. And the reason why I want to talk about it is because we still see a lot of people writing down verbatims, we still see a lot of people writing down supply side things. We still when we do coaching, we still see those types of things happening.

Yep. And we want to talk a little bit about okay, how do you actually listen better? How do you actually practice the skill? of listening? And how do you in what are you listening for? And I don’t think it’s just for jobs, we don’t know, quite frankly, I think this is a skill that we have to refine for a bunch of different things. If you think about some of your, your miscommunications in the past, with family with business, whatever, sometimes it comes down to listening or not understanding each other’s points. So I think this is a good topic to talk about, even if we’ve touched

Bob
…on it. Well, we’ve touched on it in multiple different ways. You know, part of listening is empathetic perspective, part of listening is causal structures, part of listening is some other things, but like, listening is a skill, that the better you get at it, the better your be right period. I think that’s just like, it’s like working out. It’s the same thing. If you if you listen better, you will think better.

Greg
So how do you think about listening? What’s your thought on? What should we be listening for?

Bob
Yeah, so one is I’m really bad at small talk, very bad at small talk, like the weather, like how the lions do, right? Like, because I don’t know where the purpose is going. I don’t know what it’s about. It’s merely kind of, it’s conversational in nature, but like, it doesn’t have a purpose of where it’s going. And so to me, listening is about actually understanding what people where people are going and what they’re trying to do. And so when when it gets down to being able to understand in, in a job to be done context, or even when you’re talking to an engineer about what they’re gonna go build, you need to very much listen about not only what they say how they say it, and ultimately, the what I call the orientation of the language is is it an input? Is it an output? Is it you know, is it an action? What are they really talking about? So a lot of times you just end up getting people talking a lot, but they don’t actually say anything?

Greg
Right? Right. Because what we’re trying to do is active listening to us or listening to us is a two way street. Right? You have to ask the questions that get people to give you real answers. And then you have to be able to willing to willing to listen to those answers. And sometimes they’re hard to hear. Yes. So it’s a two way street. And then also, we talk a lot about intent. Yes, we keep talking about intent. And if you’ve listened to this podcast, series, I’m sure you’ve heard the word a gazillion times. If you had $1. For every time you could retire, I’m sure. But when we’re talking about listening, we’re actually talking about listening for the intent. And the reason why we talk about that is because people use words differently all the time all

Bob
…the time. They use the same word in very different meanings in different contexts.

Greg
And we have the argument with our everybody who listened to this podcast knows we have a lawyer in our office. Yes, we have an art. We have an argue with him all the time, because he’s like, Well, Words matter. And I agree, words matter, but the intent matters more. Because if I don’t understand the intent, then I’m offended by a word that they don’t mean offensively or whatever. Right? So so we have to, we have to get down to the intent.

And you do that by asking questions. You do that by listening. You do that by playing back and you do all those types of things. But when we talk about listening for intent, if I give you a a phrase we’ve heard in an interview I bought it because I had to run back home. And I didn’t have time to run back home. But the most people would think home means where they live every day, right? But if you actually listen to intent and context, and they told you before where they are on a business trip, while they didn’t weren’t talking about running back home to the place they live, they were using home as a hotel. I remember that. Yeah. Right. So this is what we mean.

This is what we mean by unpacking and understanding the context. So not only do you have to understand the intent, you have to bring in the context that they’ve given you, you have to take all that in your head, which is hard, right? This is a hard skill, this is not a skill that you pick up in a day. This is not a skill you pick up by listening to us one time, this is something you have to practice over and over again. So intent boils down to what did they mean? But also you have to a lot of times they can’t tell you. So you have to put their context, the rep, the context around their outcomes they were seeking, all those things you were talking about has to be brought in. And it’s your job, we think it’s your job of the listener, yes, to help. The question, the answer is to get those answers out. Because as humans, we are generally guarded, unless we’re with really close friends or family. And sometimes we’re still guarded,

Bob
…even we’re even more guarded sometimes.

Greg
So it’s our responsibility to get that out if we’re trying to help them through something, or we’re trying to figure something out for them. So it’s our job to do that. So that’s what we talk about when we’re talking about intent. It’s actually not just one thing. It’s actually a bunch of different things. And most people only want to listen to the last thing someone says, And they forget everything else. But you actually have to hold multiple things in your head that and it’s hard.

Bob
It’s it is hard. And this is where it gets back to, you know, who’s saying, what, when, where, and why. Right. And ultimately, most people talk about what they did, or they talk about when they did something. But ultimately, it’s like, why did they do it? Like what made this the right thing to do next? And so part of this is us piecing together and understanding through causation, kind of what they meant by things. And so this is why the when question. So the when part is important, but it’s not the why. Right? And so most people are confusing the timeline, and listening for the timeline of all the little actions of everybody did and said, Oh, I got the interview, because I have the timeline.

But they actually don’t understand any of the reasons why somebody did something. They just know what they did. And so ultimately, we’re trying to get to the why, through the, the what, and the when, and the where, and we can actually understand the why. Right from those things. And so this is where we, we always talk about the fact of like, we use the timeline to help us interview. But ultimately, the interview was an intermediate thing to help us get to the forces, what are the things pushing, pulling anxieties and habits wrapped around it? Right? And so when we’re listening, we’re using different things to help extract that information.

Greg
Right. So some of the things that people are going to be using in that is, and we talk about a lot of them over and over again, is okay, so you’re looking for intent, which means why are they doing it? What is the context wrapped around it, all those types of things, then you have to start unpacking. So you have to unpack because they’re gonna say a word, they’re gonna say, you know, home, and you have to ask a follow up question. Well, what do you mean by the word home? There are where you home? Or, you know, what home? Are we talking about? Or you just ask a clarifying question, and sometimes it’s stupid. Yes. But a lot of times it is. It’s sometimes it actually uncover something, then you have to use once you get you start unpacking, you understand that, then you have to start using some deductive reasoning. Yep.

Bob
And you also have to use some exclusionary logic, which is, they can’t tell you any more what it is, but they can tell you what it’s not.

Greg
Right. So you’re doing that. And the example I give there is, often we talk around the office. Yes, you have to know who you’re talking to. Oh, because if you’re talking to you, and you say the word, I guess most people would stop, and you’d say, Oh, he did. Bob did that because he said I, but I have to ask the follow up question. Who’s I? Because I could be you and Katherine, if they’re talking to me, a lot of times, I’ll use the “we”. Yeah. And you have to ask, well, who’s we? Well, I wrote it, right. So you have to ask those questions sometimes, or you have to know the person if you know the person if this isn’t an interview, and this is with somebody that you work with or something. Sometimes you know that stuff.

Bob
Yeah, but it takes some time to learn, you take some time to learn it. And you basically make mistakes back and forth. And you and I, I mean, we’ve worked together for almost 20 years. And so it’s like, we know each other and I know, like, when you’re asking something, and I don’t know, I will just say Hold on. Where were you were

Greg
…who’s I? Right? So we so you have to use those types of things. You have to be willing to unpack you have to be willing to test the boundaries. Yes. You have to be willing to be vulnerable.

Bob
As a listener, you have to you have to be vulnerable to ask questions to like, I just connected with somebody I haven’t seen in a long time and one of the things they they finally read the demand side sales and they basically said something to the effect of like I didn’t think you were that smart, because you just asked all these questions like you almost like stupid questions. But then I realised like, those questions are actually how you understand everything from context, because at some point in time, they’re like, standard answers don’t help you. I’m like, Yes, exactly. And so part of this is realising like, at some point, somebody’s giving you just standard answers doesn’t help either one of us, in the Listening perspective, understand what they’re saying. Right?

Greg
The other thing I think people miss a lot of times is knowing why you’re in the conversation, because sometimes you’re in the conversation just to pass time. And that’s one thing and then listening is not, you know, yes, you have to listen to have the conversation. But how much energy do you want to put into it? But then there’s times where you’re listening, if you’re listening in a job, you don’t context? You ratchet that up a little bit more. But you have to understand why are you in this conversation? What is this conversation for? So you know, the right level to go to because if you’re in a small talk conversation, you start asking the questions you do, we just yell at you and say, Stop, but most people won’t do that.

Bob
Well, and we have we have our, I’ll say, around the office, it’s actually kind of in some cases is brutal, because people will just use casual language to say, oh, yeah, this is meaningless, because it’s natural, and it’s organic. And we’ll be like, Okay, what does all that mean? And you start to unpack it. And it’s like, they were just making a statement. And next thing, you know, we’re down the rabbit hole of like, where’s the definition of natural? And why is that natural? And this not natural, and, etc. And so, you know, I think the notion of being sharper and sharper with your language, and being more than intentful, about what you hear and what you think, you know, and what you don’t know, because, again, I’m more of the power of the school of thought of like, it’s all about what I don’t know. And so instead of trying to tell you what I know, is like, how do I figure out what I don’t know about the situation. And ultimately, it’s, that’s where the listing comes in, is to actually uncover the unknowns.

Greg
And the last thing I think we use a lot in in the listing process is knowing your own biases, I have to understand what my biases are. Because that, that limits me could limit me about how far I unpack something right? could limit me on what I actually hear. So no, your own biases going in, as well as something that we talk about a lot.

Bob
And that’s why we have, especially when we’re doing interviews in VR, or very, you know, in very specific situations, we have multiple people listening, so we actually try to not eliminate, but to diminish the kind of biases that we might have. We all have them, we just have them. And so part of it is is but but by having having multiple people listen to it, you can actually use it as a as a way to filter out those things.

Greg
I think that’s also why it’s actually easier for a lot of people to hire us to do interviews, is because we come inherently we come with less biases on certain things, especially on the supply side. And that’s from the company side. Yep. Right, why somebody eats or why somebody drinks there, there are very defined things from every company has different reasons why they think that happens. And there’s institutional bias that’s built. So coming in fresh without those biases, we’re a we’re able to recognise we can go deeper in the conversation. But then we’re not in that conflict of are we violating what the company believes? Because we don’t know.

Bob
Well? That’s right. Well, I think the other thing is that what we end up doing is we we push to make sure that it’s solution agnostic as possible, so that the answers that the customers are talking about is the outcomes they want, as opposed to what technology do we want to use. And so it’s being able to pull people away from the product or the service and make sure we understand kind of the context and outcome and in its purest form.

Greg
And I think that’s another point of knowing kind of your bias or knowing the things is knowing that we all come with that we all come with the wanting to get the answer. And really jazzy Don is about finding where everything lies, and then coming up with an answer later.

Bob
Yep. It’s I always call it hypothesis building kind of research as opposed to hypothesis proving.

Greg
So it’s one of those things where in an interview, a lot of times when you’re listening, you have to understand what you’re you’re listening for. In life, you have to understand that as well. Right? I actually think if people listened better, their relationships would be better, right? Because a lot of times we still even just hear with our ears even in that context. So this podcast I think, is gonna be a quick hair. I don’t think it’s gonna be as long as some of the other ones and I think all we’re really trying to do is just crack your head open a little bit as you listen to this is saying, “Where are my biases? Where are my where am I comfortable going deeper? Do I need to practice on packing? Do I need to practice going deeper? Do I need to practice asking?” Being vulnerable and asking questions that may seem very elementary to the to the person answering the questions, but it actually gives us a lot more information. And that’s what we’re just trying to we’re just trying to create the the first tiny struggle yep with it. Podcast write that first little thing of, of how can you be better at it?

Bob
The one concept that really has helped me a lot, I’d say early in my career was from Dr. Taguchi around the notion of what he called the signal to noise ratio. It’s a very complicated equation, if you will. But the notion is, is that you have to be able to understand, if you get rid of noise, typically you eliminate signal. And signal to noise ratio is about this notion of seeing the seeing the important intent from all the other stuff people see. And so it’s about distilling it down to what is the signal, what is the intent, and a lot of times, we have to realise there’s a lot of noise wrapped around what people say, because that’s just how they talk.

Greg
So I think this week, what we want to leave people with is, when you’re in a conversation, I want you to try to figure out what the intent of the person was. And you need to use the tools we kind of talked about unpacking, asking questions, context, context, outcome, those types of things. So just kind of practice that. Do you actually can you recognise intent or can you get to intent is really the practice we’re asking people to do this week. And then I think this is like I said, I think a little bit quicker than sorry.

Greg
… hopefully it fit your whatever you’re using it for your drive time or your workout time or whatever it might be. Hopefully we didn’t screw you up too bad. But as always, thank you for listening. And we’ll see you guys again when the next one drops. See you.

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