Leadership Thoughts: Master the Art of Active Listening

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo SurroundingsAnd here we are! Nearly a couple of weeks since I started working again, after an extended holiday break, I’m on the road once more. First business trip of the year, and perhaps one of the most exciting ones that I can think of so far. As usual, it’s the yearly pilgrimage to Orlando, Florida, to attend IBM’s event of events in the space of Social Business and Social Collaboration, formerly known as Lotusphere, now morphed into IBM Connect 2013 (Check out the stunning agenda put together so far!). Yes, of course, I just can’t wait to see everyone in there, fellow IBM colleagues, customers, business partners, industry analysts, and, certainly, good friends whom I haven’t seen in a little while and that I’ll have a chance to meet up again face to face to do a proper catchup. After checking out the live tweet stream coming from #ibmconnect it looks like folks have already gotten things started and somehow I sense that, once again, I will keep struggling with keeping up with this blog, while attending the event, embarking myself on a massive experience of offline social networking. Yes, the best one there is out there still! 

This year though, I am planning on doing something … different. I am going to keep it quiet for a little bit and hide it as a surprise and see whether it would work out all right or not. It’s something different, like I mentioned above. Very different. Something that I haven’t done in the past and that, if it works very well, I may adopt it for future face to face events that I may attend during the course of 2013. It would be interesting to see … Thus stay tuned and see how it would go further along… It will probably kick off on Sunday, while I’m in Orlando already…

Today though, I am in Madrid, where I hosted a couple of face to face workshops on social business enabling fellow colleagues on making the most out of social networking tools, along with a couple of 1:1 coaching sessions on the same topic with some managers and it’s rather interesting to see how there is plenty of eagerness along the way to get involved and fully immersed into the whole realm of social technologies for business, but there are still plenty of questions raised as to how to get started in an effective, efficient and, specially, smarter manner. Well, I keep going back to basics and refer to what I think is the number one activity that not only managers, but also knowledge workers in general, should master before embarking into blasting out messages out there for everyone to digest and be exposed to it. In fact, the first pillar of interactions that I always suggest to get started with begins with something so simple in theory, but yet extremely complicated in practice. Of course, I am talking about Listening, or, better said, Active Listening. 

I have always described being an active participant in social networks as just not necessarily broadcasting or marketing your messages out there without being interested in following up, diving into the conversations or whatever else (Which we know is perhaps happening far too often nowadays, unfortunately). There is a whole lot more than that. In fact, one of the most interesting, engaging and powerful activities, also as a good overall learning strategy, is that one that helps us build the skills and the ability to listen carefully to conversations to then decide whether we would need to dive into them or not and add value into the overall dialogue. Something that doesn’t seem to be happening far too often, unfortunately. Again.

But there is hope out there, because just when you need it the most, there is the wonderfully insightful, as always, Tom Peters coming to the rescue of all of us to stress out, not just to managers and leaders, but for everyone out there wanting to dive into the world of social networks, how important and critical it is to master the art of active listening and break off the old bad habits we have developed over the course of the years. And if he can then pack it up in a superb short video clip of about 3.30 minutes you know you have got to watch it. It’s the least you could do. And listen… Carefully.

As I am wrapping up a pretty intense week at work where there has also been some massive soul-searching for yours truly (Now completed, by the way!), after bumping into that odd diversion of your own attention from what really matters (But more on that one later on …), and, just as we are getting started with the weekend, I thought I would go ahead and leave you with one thought Tom shares across with something that we all perhaps need to make much more frequent use of: Passion.

To quote: 

“(Strategic) Listening is a profession that has to be learned […] Your profession is listening”

Thus as several thousands of us are heading into Orlando, Florida, to attend IBM Connect 2013, I would strongly encourage everyone to practice listening quite a bit, to master the art of active listening, AND learn, before you embark on with your own agenda. There is a great chance you may not have realised about just yet that even your own agenda will start with going back to basics in the world of social: listen with intent, to then decide how you are going to help people become even more awesome!

That’s just as good as it gets… The rest is just irrelevant.

Nice challenge ahead, don’t you think? :)


Oh, if you, too, are going to IBM Connect and would want to hook up with yours truly, while in there, to say “Hi” and perhaps catch up on some conversations around Social Business, not to worry, I’ll be there … listening at @elsua with intent to then get together. Don’t be shy! That’s what massive face to face events like this one are all about… People listening, talking … connecting with people. 

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  • Marc Wong says:

    I love that you say “add value into the overall dialog”. I think a listener can add value in several ways: 1) by just letting the speaker get into and enjoy his story; 2) by asking good questions and giving constructive feedback that make the speaker think; and, 3) by providing support and encouragement. If you can consistently allow vendors, customers, subordinates to voice their ideas and concerns, you should get much better collaboration and cooperation.

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    • Luis Suarez says:

      Hi Marc! Thanks a lot for reaching out and for the feedback comments! Glad you enjoyed the blog post. I truly enjoyed #2 “by asking good questions and giving constructive feedback that make the speaker think”. I think we are not doing enough of asking good questions and giving constructive feedback. Specially, in promoting dissent and that constructive dialogue to help promote further interactions and conversations to help keep innovating at a rampant pace as knowledge workers get to share their knowledge and ideas out in the open.

      That’s something that the vast majority of the enterprise world would need to start embracing if we are going to move further along into becoming successful social businesses. And it all starts with good active listening, indeed! :)

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  • Marc Wong says:

    Yes, ask good questions to help people re-examine assumptions, to explore different options. You have to do it in a respectful manner. Don’t cross examine people or put people on the spot. Don’t ask questions just to show off or to make people feel bad.

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