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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

How To Listen

In the world of work and leadership, how many of us would consider ourselves to be good listeners? A good many of us would probably put ourselves in that category, I'm sure. It's a critical skill we need to employ to perform at our best and to help others do the same. Being a good listener today, perhaps more than ever is an important skill. But how many of us would consider ourselves to be deep listeners? And what's the difference between a good listener and a deep listener?

My guest on episode 61 of my employee engagement and workplace culture podcast, Sticky From The Inside, Oscar Trimboli would say, "good listeners hear what's being said. Deep listeners hear what's not being said." Oscar is on a life's quest to create 100 million deep listeners and I caught up with him on the show to understand more about this quest, what deep listening is all about and to ask him to share some tips on how we can all be much better listeners.

Below is a full transcript of our conversation, but you can also listen here.

Two men discussing how to be better at listening
Oscar Trimboli (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss what it takes to be a deep listener

00:00:10 Andy Goram

Hello and welcome to Sticky From the Inside, the Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition, smashing consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you wanna take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

00:01:11 Andy Goram

OK, let's start with a stat leaders spend 83% of their day listening, but only 2% have ever been trained on how to listen. So are they really listening or are they just waiting to speak?

And it's not just about leaders. Is listening another one of those human skills we all just take for granted. We've all got ears. Therefore, we all know how to listen. Now, if that was the case, why is communication pretty much always the number one issue people say needs sorting in their organisation, or personal life, or is the cause of some of the greatest frustrations that we find?

How many opportunities do we miss every day by not listening properly and really hearing what's been said, or maybe more importantly, what's not been said? How many wrong decisions do we make because we haven't listened properly, or we've misinterpreted what someone has really said? And what's the cost of all that?

As you sit there listening to this episode, how many of you can honestly say that you're a great listener?And I'm interested what makes you think that? How do you know? And what's your secret?

Well, today, I'm joined by a true expert in the field of listening, Oscar Trimboli. He's on a quest to create 100 million of what he calls deep listeners. He's the author of the book How to Listen and Host of the Apple Award-winning podcast Deep Listening, where as part of his research into world class listeners, he's interviewed over 100 of the most diverse workplace listeners, from air traffic controllers. To deaf and foreign language interpreters from hostage negotiators to spies. And he's had over 23,000 people contribute to his research into what gets in their way when it comes to listening.

I'm really excited to hear from Oscar on how we can all become better listeners and if I'm honest, a little bit nervous about exposing my own listening deficiencies too. Welcome to the show, Oscar!

00:03:26 Oscar Trimboli

G’day, Andy! Looking forward to listening to your questions and sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. We're all imperfect listeners. My quest is just that everybody would like to be a little bit better in their listening in the next conversation. So, I'm not here to judge anybody's listening. I know myself, I'm always improving every day. And after researching with 23,000 people and doing deeper research with 100 of the world's most diverse listeners, you know what I know about listening now that I didn't know five years? I know less about listening than I did when I started, Andy.

00:04:06 Andy Goram

Well, I find that incredible, because I feel from reading your book that I do know a little bit more. I'm definitely more conscious about listening and all the things, that I'm sure we'll get into today, that are behind listening, and I think it is definitely one of those things we must take for granted. I have had my eyes opened. I'm sure my wife will be incredibly grateful for you sending this book.

But we're not here to discuss my domestic situation here today. Oscar, I am fascinated...

00:04:38 Oscar Trimboli

Ironically, Andy, I would like to share the title for a recent review of “How to Listen” which says,

Listening is like sex and comedy. We all think we're better at it than we really are.”

00:04:53 Andy Goram

What a great title. If only I could have thought of that for my podcast title today. But that's fascinating. I would love to find out a little bit more about you if we can first, Oscar. Can you give us a brief introduction to who Oscar is, and a little bit more perhaps behind this 100 million deep listener quest that you’re on?

00:05:15 Oscar Trimboli

If we zoom into a board room meeting between Sydney, Seattle and Singapore. We're going back to April of 2008. There's eighteen people in this budget setting meeting, spread across the globe, and the meeting is scheduled for 90 minutes and it's called a budget setting meeting, though the language is very deliberate. You have to set the budget before you leave the room.

Now it's all part of a process, but think about it as when the Olympics get announced, you know, everybody's got to vote and we can't leave until we've got a winner. These meetings are renowned for going over, Andy. They're renowned for going through for five hours until a resolution is made. And something weird happened at the 20-minute mark. My vice president, who was in the room and literally across the table from me, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Oscar, I need to see you immediately after this meeting.” Now no different to your wife, Andy, when she says, “Honey, we need to talk.” It can't be good.

Now, something miraculous happened. The meeting finished at the 70-minute mark with agreement. And everybody left and the video cameras went off in the room, and Tracy asked me to close the door. And from the 20-minute mark to the 70-minute mark, I had no idea what people were talking about. I'd stopped listening. All I was doing was trying to calculate how many weeks of salary I had left in the bank account. And as I walked back into my chair to sit across from Tracy in that boardroom she said “Oscar, you have no idea what you did at the 20-minute mark do you?” And I thought I'm getting fired and I don't even know why. And as I sat down, Tracy said something that was truly profound, she said,

Oscar, if you could code how you listen, you could change the world.”

And as insightful and as deep and as sagacious as that listening was in that moment of wisdom on Tracy's behalf, the only thing that was happening in my head is I was cheering out loud going, “I can put all the money I took out of my bank account back in again.”

Now because I hadn't been paying attention I'd got a 32% uplift in my budget line. So that's the cost of not listening in budget meetings. I've been on a quest ever since, and the quest is to create more deep listeners in the workplace. And I've got a hat tip to Kevin Monroe, out of Atlanta, in Georgia, who had a chat to me once and said, “You know, Oscar, if you're gonna have a quest that big, you're going to need some help. Even McDonald's had more than one outlet. They didn't flip burgers all by themselves. Why don't you enrol some help?” And there's a community of workplace professionals called the Deep Listening Ambassador community who are also on this quest to create more listeners in the workplace, by just being better than the next conversation that you have.

That's how we got to this place where we've written three books. We've created a listening quiz. We've got an award-winning podcast. We've got a jigsaw puzzle game. We've got practise cards. We've done a lot to code how to listen since then.

00:08:47 Andy Goram

It's amazing how many people I speak to, Oscar, where there is a moment, in retrospect, of kind of profound learning or stimulus that has set someone off on a path, that maybe they didn't even realise until a little while later. And you've just sort of said that you hadn't really listened in the meeting. You got a 32% uplift in your budget line, and you were thinking about your bank account at that moment. When did you realise how profound that kind of intervention, if you like, had been?

00:09:26 Oscar Trimboli

Three weeks later, our Chief Financial Officer, Brian, said to me, “Oscar, I need you to come to our budget setting meeting”, where we distributed the budget locally in our business, “and I want you to audit my listening”. A very finance term. And I just said, “Brian, I haven't got time for this listening caper that you and Tracy are dreaming up. I just got a 32% uplift in my budget revenue line.” And Brian smiled at me, and he said,

Look, Oscar, I can't help you with your top line increase. But I can over allocate investment for growth.

Brian, what time's the meeting? Where's it at?” And as I sat there a week and a bit later, watching him in a meeting, I noticed he asked very long questions. I noticed he cut people off. I noticed he only heard from a handful of people in the meeting. And as I was writing all this down, I came to realise I'm actually coding how to listen, in that moment. And yeah, we've been coding, and when I say we, it's me and the deep listening ambassadors. I'm not doing this by myself. We're coding all kinds of things in English-speaking, Western workplaces about how people can have better conversations than the last one.

00:10:50 Andy Goram

I think it's really important work. And again, my experience in reading the book definitely shows how how important it is. And may be even listening to you now, that whether you had taken for granted your own ability to listen, and pick out how to listen, the way you just described what that leader was or wasn't doing in that moment, not everybody, I guess, would be able to pick those things up. Has listening been something that's always been there in your background? What's happened in your life to kind of bring this thing to, I guess the fore?

00:11:31 Oscar Trimboli

Wow, I feel like I'm on the Therapy Couch, now.

00:11:33 Andy Goram

Sorry, my friend.

00:11:36 Oscar Trimboli

So, when I was a teenager, what you don't know about me, I had a very protruded jaw, like a werewolf. When people get orthodontics put in, it's usually to straighten their teeth. If you think about a full fist, that's how far my jaw was protruding above the underbite. I looked like a werewolf, basically.

And when you got braces on and you're a werewolf, you don't want any attention on you, so you become really good at asking questions in a group situation. You become very good at deflecting attention away and putting it back onto the other person. And you become very good at being a listener, because you don't want to be doing the speaking. ‘Cos that means the spotlight's on you. And, you know, for me, most people had braces on for one or two years. I had braces on for, I think, 4, or 4 ½, maybe five years. I can't quite remember.

But I was also lucky to go to a school with 23 nationalities.

We were right next to an immigration centre in Australia, and in those days, there were people coming from Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia. There were people coming from Chile and Uruguay and Argentina and Brazil. There were people coming from Eastern Europe. And the only thing that unified us, besides playing football or soccer, depending on which part of the world you're listening in right now, was an Italian card game that was played in pairs, no different to bridge, I guess, I've never played bridge. But they kind of play in teams of two and stuff like that. And because I was a native monolingualist, I only spoke English, teams would pair up in their home language.

And they'd always have really tough games against other teams, because they could completely converse, well, you know, somebody would be speaking Polish, and somebody would be speaking Spanish, and you know, they're not really close. Or somebody would be speaking Vietnamese, and somebody would be speaking in Greek. And I'd be the pick-up player. Occasionally somebody would have a team of only one, so I'd jump in.

But what they didn't realise, is I wasn't paying any attention to what they were saying. I was watching where their hands were on the cards. I was watching where their lips were moving. I was watching their eye rolls and their movements. And all of a sudden, you know, 30 years down the track, Andy, I realised that I was starting to quickly build muscles in how to read body language. And they never could understand why I beat them consistently with my partner, even though we didn't speak at all while we were playing, because we didn't have really good common language. That they didn't understand. So, if we spoke English, they'd have no problem understanding what we'd say, and we'd still beat them because their body language, the confidence of speaking in a different language meant that they dropped their guard when it came to hand positions on cards, and the kind of nonverbal signals they were giving, that you don't really pay attention to when you're diagonally across from each other. Those things lead into workplaces and, yeah, so there were all these little breadcrumbs along the way, Andy, that connected the dots and started to build my listening muscles from a very, very young age.

00:15:01 Andy Goram

And when did the deep listening quest take formation? When did that come to life?

00:15:10 Oscar Trimboli

Well, that was a very protracted conversation with a wonderful Irishman. His name is Dermot. And I'd go to Dermot once a month as someone I admired. I thought of him as a mentor, and I went to him once and I said, “Dermot. I've got this really ambitious goal I want to test with you. I want to train 10,000 people to be deep listeners.” And he just laughed with this beautiful laugh. And he says,

Hey! Add a zero, come back next month.”

And I thought, “What do you mean?”

Now, by the way, another thing you don't know about me, I have dyscalculia, which means my relationship with numbers is very poor. I spin numbers around, but yeah, a story for another day. So, I come back next month. “Dermot, I figured out how to get to train 100,000 deep listeners.” Before I'd finished saying the word listeners, he said, “Add a zero come back next month.”

OK, so I add a zero and come back next month, and I go, “OK, Dermot, I've figured out how to get to 1,000,000 deep listeners in the workplace,” and I said, “before you tell me to add a zero, that's the absolute maximum I can do.” And there was this really long pause, and he stroked his chin and he looked at me with all the wisdom that he could muster, kind of like a grandpa looking at a grandson, and he said something as profound as what Tracy said. And I'm not going to try and do the Irish accent. It would be a disservice to Dermot. He said to me, “If you can achieve your goal in your lifetime, it's not worth your effort. You need to be thinking 3 generations ahead. The impact of what you do needs to be transmitted through multiple generations. Come back next month. Tell me what you can do in three generations.”

And I was like, gobsmacked. Like I had twisted every conceivable way to understand how to get to 1,000,000 deep listeners. And the number didn't scare me. I'd worked at Microsoft. I knew what big numbers were and how to get out there, so I'd figured it out. And I came back next month, and I said, “Dermot, you're right. It's 100 million deep listeners in the workplace.” He said,

That is worthy of you. Go and make it happen.”

00:18:18 Andy Goram


00:18:19 Oscar Trimboli

So, for many of us, the goals we set will become a North star on a compass setting for life. And every decision I make is for one unit of time. Is that going to be multiplied? That's why I’m being interviewed by you, Andy. I don't know who's going to listen. I don't know who's going to be impacted by this. I don't know the chain reaction of that.

I've heard stories about Thanksgiving dinners in the United States where for decades a grumpy uncle was ignored. And because of something I said on a podcast interview, it completely changed the Thanksgiving dinner from a very tense and adversarial event, to something that was truly breakthrough and transformational. And I was lucky enough to get an e-mail from somebody explaining that. I was very grateful for that, because sometimes you never know the impact of what you do. Not only because you're not there, but you also may not be alive.

A funny story about Dermot. One month I went to him and complained that nobody's reading my newsletters, Dermot. He said, “You idiot!” He said, “If you're talking about listening, do a podcast!” And I thought, “Oh, that's so obvious!”

00:19:44 Andy Goram

I find it absolutely fascinating to hear where the influences for these things come from.

I guess... when you say, “deep listening”, Oscar, what are you defining as “deep listening”?

00:19:58 Oscar Trimboli

Active listeners listen to what's said. Deep listeners notice what's not said. And I want to share the maths and the neuroscience of listening, so you understand. For somebody who has dyscalculia and a weird relationship with numbers, these three numbers, when I've talked to clients about it, like the penny drops really quickly. Whether it's a Customer Care Person inside a bank, or whether it's a Prison Guard, whether it's a School Principal, whether it's somebody works in a Pharmaceutical Company, or a Financial Services company.

I had a Detective Senior Sergeant from the police force on my LinkedIn profile the other day, and I thought, “Oh! This can't be good.” So, I sent him a message and said, Is there anything I can help you with?” And he goes, “No, I'm just listening to your podcast and I'm picking up lots of great tips about how to listen.”

And I thought, “Phew!” Because what you don't know about my name, my surname, is that in Australia, it's one of the three major Mafia crime family names. But I think we'll pick that up another day.

00:21:13 Andy Goram

I did not know that. There you go. How interesting.

00:21:18 Oscar Trimboli

So back to the numbers. So, 125/400/900. Let me unpick each of those numbers so you understand it. First up I'm gonna describe it from the speaker's perspective. Because the hardes position in listening is actually to be the speaker. Most people think it is to be the listener. And then I'm going to describe the numbers from the listeners perspective, so bear with me. I'm going to do each individually because listening is a simultaneous equation and like comedy, the value of listening doesn't sit with the comedian that sits in the audience. And I'm not going to talk about sex. OK, Andy? Definitely we want to keep it, uh PG. So you can keep your podcast.

From a speaker's perspective, right now I can speak at roughly 125 words per minute. This is the workplace average speaking speed. Now, if you're a horse race caller, or a cattle yard auctioneer you can be speaking at about 200 words per minute. And even then we can completely understand everything they're saying at 200 words per minute, no problem. Yet the speaker can think on average, at 900 words per minute. So that means, the very first thing I say is 14% of what they think and what they mean. I’ll say that again. The very first thing that somebody says is only 14% of what they think and mean.

Speaking is like a rinse cycle for the brain. It gets the idea out. And people who have their mind in a wash cycle it means it's turbulent, it's sudsee, it's agitated, and it's not moving anywhere. It's just going left, right, left, right, left, right. Yet when you speak, you get this rinse cycle opportunity to say it out loud. And when you say it out loud, you often go, “Oh OK! It wasn't all I was thinking.” And for most people they wanna take a gamble and just have a conversation with someone about the 1st 14% of what they say. The 86% of what they say is what I want to talk about when we come to deep listeners.

Active listeners are listening to the 14%. They're trained really well to listen to what people say. Deep listeners are trying not only to listen to what people say, but to notice what I haven't said, what I haven't thought and what they haven't meant. The role of a deep listener is to help the speaker communicate what they truly want to communicate, not the very first thing they say. Imagine typing an e-mail and just pressing send without checking it. Well, that's what most conversations are like.

Now let's move from there, to the listener’s position. But before we do, Andy, have you got any questions about the maths of the speaker’s perspective right now? What that means maybe for you?

00:24:14 Andy Goram

Well, no. I think when I read the stats in your book, there was, like you say, a bit of a penny drop. I mean, I'm definitely one of those guys who talks while they think. That's just my personality profile. But actually seeing the ratios between the three things starkly in front of you, is quite an Aha Moment, and helps explain a lot of those collisions that happen in conversations, I think.

So, no. I'm all ears, my friend. You continue, ‘cause I find this stuff fascinating. And it's a massive setup construct for your other framework, I think, within the book.

00:24:51 Oscar Trimboli

One thing I'd offer quickly to you, it's an invitation only, it's not a recommendation. It's not a suggestion. Is, how often do you tell other people that when you speak, you're thinking out aloud?

00:25:05 Andy Goram

A fair amount, actually. Yeah. A fair amount, yeah.

00:25:09 Oscar Trimboli

And when you don't, what's the impact of that for you and for them in the conversation?

00:25:16 Andy Goram

I think sometimes it's hard for them to follow me, or I feel it's hard to follow where I'm going, if I'm honest.

00:25:22 Oscar Trimboli

Hmm. Yeah. So, one of the big outputs from the research, is the more you can communicate about your preferred communication preference at the beginning of the conversation, the less friction will take place. And we know from our research that conversations are actually finished much quicker when you listen more deeply, OK? Because you don't just keep spinning around in the conversation. So, if you can communicate about how you communicate, that will make a huge difference. And when you express to somebody that you think best by speaking out loud, they're more productive conversations.

So, my invitation for you who are listening to us right now, is there's an opportunity in a relationship where there is trust, and where the content and context you're discussing is fairly predictable, in the next conversation, do what Andy does and just announce the way you think best.

I was brought into a boardroom once, by The Chair. And he said to me, “I need you to watch this particular board member. She doesn't engage. She's disconnected. She's not a team player.” I thought, “Wow, that was an interesting brief.”

The board meeting went under this time Sequence -9 till 10:30, morning tea break till 11, 11 till 1:00 o'clock, with a one hour break for lunch. And then they continued on for the rest of the day. And as I watched everybody interacting with each other, occasionally, I'd look at this person as she was taking notes, as she was gazing down consistently either at the table or at her notes, at her feet. She wasn't making direct contact with her eyes with any of the PowerPoint slides that were dealing with really complex calculations, which was ironic, because I didn't understand any of them. And the morning tea break came, and I took her aside and I simply asked her this question, “How do you concentrate?” And she said, “I get very distracted by visual prompts, whether that's PowerPoint, whether that's people speaking. I need to concentrate really hard. And by doing that, sometimes I close my eyes to remove the visual distraction. And I take really good notes.” And she did, because the reflection she made back to the group, everybody was paying attention when she mentioned something. Now, she was always sharp, to the point, but very insightful.

I said, “Would you be OK announcing that to the group when we come back, after the break?” She goes, “Sure”. So, she explained to the group. And the tension in the room evaporated. And for the next 90 minutes The Board engaged in a very different way. And at lunchtime, I took The Chair aside, I said, “Look, my work is done. I think I should leave. I think I'm impacting the group dynamic.” He says to me, “Are you expecting to get paid for the full day?” I said, “I'm expecting to get paid for the value I created in this meeting.” And he says, “Of course we'll pay you for the full day. That's not a question.” I said,

But you and I do need to have a conversation about your unconscious bias in communication styles.”

He goes, “I knew this was going to come back and be about me. Let's go. My admin will set up a time with you shortly. I realised that what I thought was the problem, was actually the way I was leading the meeting.”

00:29:23 Oscar Trimboli

Now let's come back to the next set of numbers. From the listener’s perspective, because sometimes we just don't realise that we have different listening styles. We're coded through the education system to listen for similarity. And there's two ways of attending to the world. Listening for similarity and listening for difference. And Harvard has done an implicit bias assessment of over 20 million people, and again, it reinforces that 92% of people have a thinking pattern and a listening pattern for similarities. They're trying to match with previous experience, previous professional training, previous family interactions, previous industry experience. So just notice neither is correct or incorrect, by the way. You can listen for similarity and difference, it's just you need to choose as a listener which one's going to be effective.

Now, although I can speak, Andy, at 125 words per minute, you can listen probably up to 400 words per minute. So, we can all watch YouTube videos..., in fact, some of you are listening to this podcast at 1.5 times speed and you can still understand everything that's going on. And while you are listening for the 125 words per minute, there’s a balance of 300 words you're just filling in. You're jumping ahead. You're anticipating. You're pattern matching. You're disagreeing. You're thinking about lunch, you're thinking about dinner. You're thinking about some gardening you should have done on the weekend, whatever it is. You're not completely in the moment. And again, good listeners drift off and don't realise they're not connected to the conversation. A deep listener just notices when the distraction is there and they come back into the conversation much, much quicker.

So just knowing those numbers, the ambassador community and the people we've worked with all say, when you know that you’ve got peripheral hearing as well as peripheral vision, and you can listen much faster than they can speak, you don't beat yourself up so much when you drift away, and you're just conscious of it and you come back to the conversation so much more quickly.

00:31:43 Andy Goram

I think that word “conscious” is for me a major theme, right, that runs through the book. And I made the statement in the intro around, or maybe asked the question, “Do we take listening for granted?” And from all of what you said, Oscar, from all of what we've talked about so far, do you feel that we do take this thing for granted?

00:32:10 Oscar Trimboli

There's a paradox in listening, and here's the paradox. At 32 weeks inside your mother's womb, the first skill you learned was to listen. You could distinguish your mother's voice from any other sound. Now this is critical genetically, so you know where to get fed, when you kind of come out. And at 36 weeks you can distinguish Beethoven from The Beatles, from Bon Jovi, from Justin Bieber. At the minute we come into the world, you come into the world kicking and screaming and wanting to be noticed. In fact, the time they put on your birth certificate is the time you scream. That's when you know your lungs are working and you're fully alive.

A lot of listening is actually unlearning bad habits that you've developed from familial relationships. Whether that's your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your grandfather, your auntie, your uncle, your grandmother, your school teacher, your sportsmaster, your music teacher. People say,

Oh look, I never had any formal training in how to listen. I learn maths, I learn English, I learn chemistry, I learn music. I learned all these other languages, but I didn't learn the language of listening.”

And my hypothesis is that, the more present you are to yourself, and the less conscious you are of what the other person is, the more transformational the listening experience is for the speaker. Because our research group says, when the speaker is present, and we know they're (the audience) not fidgeting with their phone, their connected watch, their laptop, or anything else that could be distracting them. The speaker says they relax and say what they really want to say. They don't beat around the bush. They don't discuss things, they don't express them in a way that's convoluted.

So when we think about listening and do we take it for granted, the question isn’t, “Can we learn more?” The question is, “How can we shed the layers of skin that we've developed in our lifetime from learning to listen to others, and just be in the moment with that other person?” And when you do, you know, people say that... in workshops we run, whether that's online, across the world, where people are in completely different time zones, or face to face, they'll say words like, “I never thought I'd say that out aloud. I didn't realise I meant that.” And yet, when they do, they can move on. It's like this amazing release of energy for them and for the listener as well.

Now listening in the workplace is not therapy. Please don't confuse the two. Listening in the workplace is about outcomes. Whether you're in commerce, whether you're in the public sector, whether you're in organisations that are for purpose or not for profit, listening in the workplace is just about better communication and more improved dialogue. So my invitation, paradoxically, to everybody is, despite what I've coded into listening, if we could just unlearn some really bad habits, listening becomes really light and easy and energising, as opposed to draining, taxing and difficult. Which is how most people describe it when they come into our workshops. I often ask them. “What colour is your listening battery as you arrive today?” And a lot of people bring up oranges, yellows and reds. Some people put black, they're just not ready to listen. The first person you need to listen to is not the speaker. You need to listen to yourself.

00:36:07 Andy Goram

I think that's really interesting and a bit of an intro into your framework that comes in the book. So, my takeout, and I'm more interested to understand your perspective on it, and how we could use it. Yes, there's a whole piece in the book about listening to yourself and preparing yourself, and I guess it was getting ready for a conversation before you have a conversation. And then I think the sort of three major takeouts for me were about the content, the context, and the meaning that's associated with that conversation.

So if we think about you've talked about sort of getting better at conversations and sort of tweaking your skills. When you do this work, when you think about that framework, what are the common problems that people are faced with, or trying to sort out? And ultimately, how does that drive the problems you're trying to solve with all this great, deep listening work that you're trying to do?

The Five Levels of Listening

00:37:11 Oscar Trimboli

If we quickly just go through the five levels of listening, which is the framework which holds everything together, it holds the four villains of listening together. It holds together the listening quiz. It holds together the book, the podcasts. It holds together, the practise cards.

The five levels are listening are Level one, listening to yourself. That's the foundation. Level 2 is listening to the content. It's what you see. It's what you hear. It's what you sense. At those level one and two, we're listening “to” things. We're listening to ourselves. We're listening to the content. At level three, four and five. We're listening “for” things.

We're listening for the context at Level 3. These are all the actors that surround the principals on stage. This is the back story. This is the way they use language. This is their cultural context. This is their professional background. This is the problem they're seeking to solve.

At level 4 we're listening for what's not said. And we've already touched a bit on the science that supports that. And then at Level 5, we're listening for their meaning. And those three levels, level three, four and five, we're listening for things now.

Most people in our research database of 23,000 listeners are stuck at level 1. They have so many browser tabs open in their head, their memory is completely flooded and they're not available to speak, let alone listen to the other person, because they're thinking about the last meeting, the next meeting, what happened in the last meeting with this person, I've got my agenda I want this outcome. And they just can't be present. What gets in the way of most people? It's themselves.

In every orchestra, no matter if they played in the same venue three hours earlier in matinee, and they're doing the evening performance, or the day after, every musician and an orchestra, or band will tune their instruments before they commence the act of the performance. And they do that as an act of professionalism, humility and respect for the other musicians, the conductor and the audience. Yet this is how most people turn up to the meeting, “I'm sorry I'm late. My last meeting ran over time. I'm really sorry.” And they may arrive in the first 5 minutes of the meeting physically. Mentally, they arrive 15 minutes later, when they decompress and process what was going on in the last meeting. One simple tip we recommend, if you are the host of a meeting and you control the calendar invite for the meeting in the workplace, for a one hour meeting, start the meeting at five after the hour, and finish at five to the hour. Create space.

When our ambassador community does this, they tell me, “Wow, Oscar. People turn up to the meeting excited and energised, looking forward, because they've had time to have a cup of tea and drink of water, a quick sandwich. They've got time to go to the restroom. And when they arrived at five past, they're grateful. They're present and they're available to the dialogue. And most of our Ambassador Community report that the meetings typically go even shorter than that, because they learn to listen to what matters. Most of us are stuck there. 86% of people in our research. We're stuck there. We're stuck not listening to ourselves. And it's very difficult to step up to each level in the five levels of listening, if you haven't built muscles at the previous level, because you can kind of get away with listening at level two and three without that muscle implies that distraction will show up very quickly. Remember, 400 words per minute. You can listen at. 125 they can speak at. So, you have to be conscious of that.

So, it's real basic. When I interviewed Professor Stefan van der Stigchel from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and I had to say that about 300 times to get the pronunciation correct.

00:41:45 Andy Goram

It's excellent.

00:41:48 Oscar Trimboli

He's written many books on attention and he talks about working memory and the role of working memory. And I asked him the question that everybody asked me, “Can you multitask?” Yes you can. If you're performing a routine task that has predictable participants and predictable outcomes. Chopping vegetables, gardening, driving the car while listening to the radio. All of these things you can listen to other things while doing predictable tasks. Yet, if you're in a workplace where collaboration is required with another human, creativity is required, maybe there's competition in the way the organisation faces the market, maybe there's conflict in the workplace, maybe there's restricted resources in the workplace, Stefan says,

Oscar, when it comes to listening to another human, the only thing working memory is capable of doing is listen”,

he said you can task switch while you're trying to listen to somebody else, but you won't do the task effectively, nor will you listen effectively. And often just by the use of my silence in some workplaces, I can, like a Jedi mind trick, get laptops and their lids to go down in meetings because I'm bringing a presence to the meeting, that they realise we're changing the way we communicate.

But don't fool yourself, you can't do the instant message, Whatsapp, connected watch thing while talking to another human in the workplace about something that requires progress. So that's all gets in the way.

00:43:33 Andy Goram

Yeah, definitely. Oscar, this is a topic that you could talk about for hours, and hours, and hours. There's so much!

00:43:43 Oscar Trimboli

I can talk about it for years, mate!

Sticky Notes

00:43:46 Andy Goram

There's so much in the book, I feel like I am really not doing justice to the content within it. In a 45-50 minute podcast. In some sort of way of trying to leave the listeners with some critical takeaways, Oscar, I have this part in the show that I call Sticky Notes where we try and summarise the kind of practical takeaways, we love practical things. If you were to capture three critical parts, that would help people listening to this podcast go away and become better listeners, on their way to deep listeners, what would your three sticky notes be, my friend?

00:44:35 Oscar Trimboli

Use the technology. Don't be a slave to technology. That means manage your notifications.

Number 2, drink a glass of water before you go into a conversation. And drink a glass of water every 30 minutes. So, drink water. That sends a signal to this part of the body, the parasympathetic nervous system around the lungs, the heart and the guts. It’s got more nerve endings than the brain. When you drink water, that whole system just relaxes. And when you relax, you're OK.

So number 1, use the technology, don't be a slave to technology. Number 2 drink a glass of water. And tip number 3, take a deep breath. Before you go into a conversation, and there is a correct way to do this, in through your nose down to the bottom of your diaphragm, which is at the bottom of your lungs and then out through your mouth. Most people breathe in and out through their mouth. When you get distracted. When you're confused. When you really want to speak, just take a deep breath in. The deeper you breathe, the deeper you listen.

So those 3 tips again. Manage your notifications, drink a glass of water and take a deep breath.

Now Andy, I know you took something away from the book around breathing. I'd love you to share that.

00:45:57 Andy Goram

Yeah, box breathing. So, this is a 4,4,4,4 count, right? So, I think I've revealed my dirty secret before that I've play lawn bowls. Yeah, it's out there in the open. And that when I lead my team, I like to think that I am a beautiful combination of competitive spirit and collaboration. My face will tell a different story, and occasionally my watch will tell me a different story, as well. Because my Garmin will say you need to breathe. You're getting a bit stressed. And it wasn't really until I had read that very early chapter in the book that references box breathing. With the breathe in for four, hold for four. Breathe out for four, hold for four, that actually, I really tuned into my breathing. And it was the holds. It was the... in fact it was the 2nd hold that was the kind of big, big change. And... look, I'm not a kind of new world hippie kind of guy that is into all the kind of spiritual stuff. I think I'm an emotional guy, but this breathing thing's different. This really helped me focus. So, look, if I can do it, I'm pretty much sure anybody can do that. So, box breathing 4-4-4-4, who knew? Who knew it would change so many things, my friend. Thank you for introducing me to that.

00:47:26 Oscar Trimboli

Thanks to James Nestor, who's written the book on the topic. Many books, in fact, on how to breathe.

00:47:31 Andy Goram

Absolutely amazing. Oscar, we have not done anything like justice to your book, but I have to say I have loved listening to you. I love your stories. There are so many more stories in the book. And for me, as somebody who's a slow reader, who has to put voices into everything, hearing the man behind it all, tell some of those stories, it's been absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on the show today.

00:47:57 Oscar Trimboli

Andy, you did a great job. Thanks for listening to me.

00:48:00 Andy Goram

It's my absolute pleasure. Now in the Show Notes, we'll give links of where to get the book and to access the listening quiz right that that would be a good thing for people to do?

00:48:11 Oscar Trimboli

Yeah, rather than connect with me, please just connect with your own listening. Take the seven-minute quiz at You'll get a report that tells you what your primary listening barrier is, and more importantly, tips about what to do that are tailored specifically to your primary and secondary listening villains.

00:48:29 Andy Goram

Amazing, Oscar. Thanks so much for coming today, mate. I really appreciate it and good luck with all the deep listening quest, my friend.

00:48:36 Oscar Trimboli

Thanks for becoming part of the ambassador community and spreading the word, Andy.

00:48:41 Andy Goram

Delighted to do so, my friend.

00:48:45 Andy Goram

I'm going to take a few minutes just to reflect on the conversation I've just had with Oscar. Now I don't normally do a reflective session at the end of a podcast, but I think today warrants it.

I genuinely think my time spent with Oscar, and the investment in reading his book is going to make, and has already made quite a fundamental change to me. I definitely think listening is something I would have put myself in the bracket of being a good listener. I think reading the book and listening to Oscar himself, showed that that was not the case. And like many other people, I thought I was better at something than I actually was.

I think my key takeouts from listening to what's been said and the lessons that Oscar is trying to share, or as he would say, the invitation that he is dropping, is to do a number of things. I've definitely learned that listening starts before the conversation takes place. Listening to yourself and preparing yourself and getting yourself in the right state to have a good conversation.

I think one of the game-changing pieces in the work is to listen out for the similarities, which is what we're prewired to do, but most importantly the differences. As Oscar would say, there's no right or wrong, but just recognise whether you’re listening for similarities, or listening for difference. And listening for difference can open up a whole bunch of possibilities in that conversation when you're listening.

And really importantly, is listening with your whole body, and listening to what's not said. I don't have to sit here saying, “Oh, buy the book, read the book.” But I do feel this is one of those situations where it's had quite a profound effect on me. And if any of my listeners, if any of you, can get the same benefit from it, then please go and check out that book. It's a game-changer.

00:50:54 Andy Goram

OK, that was Oscar Trimboli. And if you'd like to find out anything more about him, or any of the topics that we've talked about today, please check out the Show Notes.

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe, that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like, comment, and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to The Sticky From The Inside Podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

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