#009: The Key Skill to Listening That No One Told Us, Here it Is [Podcast]


What does Sam Palmisano, former CEO of IBM, Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, your mother, your wife, your kids and your friends all want from you? One thing that takes relationships to a new level. One skill that can turn you from unwanted to wanted.  Most of the advice on this one skill is not helpful, because it overlooks the one thing that will define your ability to be successful. It will stunt your ability to grow relationally.

listening key to right relationships

Sam Palmisano is the former CEO of IBM. IBM’s numbers are quite impressive: Global top 50 company, $104.5 billion in revenue last year, over 400,000 employees and growing. Sam is not a weak executive. He had the guts to sell their PC division, which had a $20 billion dollar yearly revenue. When asked what was one the most important leadership lessons he learned, it was LISTEN.

Sam listened. He set up a three-day forum for all IBM employees to debate publicly the very nature of the computer giant and what it stood for. Day one of this forum there was lots of negative and critical information. Instead of pulling back, Sam listened more and encouraged it. This led Sam to make major changes to the company, which has launched IBM even farther to success.

If listening is so important for a $100 billion dollar company with 400,000 employees, what about you and me? We know listening is important for relationships. Ask your spouse. What about in friendship? We propose that listening will determine the success or failure of your friendships. So, yeah, listening is important in friendship.

Yet, most of the advice I have been given about listening has been like building a house without a foundation. All the wood, plaster, molding, and roofing looks really nice, but doesn’t stand a chance without a good foundation!


The foundational piece is this: When listening, DETERMINE YOUR GOAL FOR THIS FRIENDSHIP.

All my life, I have focussed on the techniques of listening, while missing the real starting point–the heart.

Bruna Martinuzzi says it so well:

We’ve all heard the usual advice for developing better listening skills through active listening: paraphrasing, summarizing, verbal and non-verbal encouragements, and asking clarifying questions, to name a few. These are all important recommendations. However, to truly develop your ability to listen with the third ear, it goes beyond that. It’s not about a mechanical “point and click” process. Being good at it requires heart. It requires a genuine desire to connect with the person as one human being to another. It’s about building a relationship, and there is no more powerful way to do this than with a genuine effort to truly hear what people are saying; to intuitively understand where they’re coming from, and what they are leaving unsaid. When this happens, it creates a strong bond that engenders trust and loyalty. There’s no doubt that listening moves us closer to each other.

Determine your goal for this friendship

Screw this up and the rest don’t matter. Why? You can fake caring for a season, but eventually your friends will know if you really care. If you goal is for them or not.

Good News: Get this right and you are on the road to friendship in a massive way.

Another way to say this is “What do I expect to get out of this friendship.” or “Where do you hope this relationship goes and what are you going to give to get there?”

Let’s make it real in our lives:

Choose a friend. Any friend will do. No friends? Then choose a co-worker.

What was your goal in your last conversation? Is that the goal you want?

What is your REAL goal in that friendship? Is that the goal you want?

I re-practiced this as I typed this and was amazed again at how selfish I can be. Yet, by following the steps below, I reset what I want the goal to be.

How do you clarify the right goal for your friendship?

  1. Acknowledge that your current goal is not what you want. Be honest. Do you really want it to change?
  2. Notice why you have the wrong goal for this friend. Is it based on your insecurity, your fears, your ego, your identity or something else?
  3. Out loud say what goal you do want from this friendship. Again be honest.
  4. Imagine you are at coffee with this friend interacting with your new goal in mind.

Please stop and ask yourself what you want from your friendship. Get your goals right and clarified and you are heading in a great direction.

Here are the links to the articles mentions in the podcast:

Bruna Martinuzzi article  

Sam’s comment about listen to Ken Sharer

IBM listens to employees

Question: What quality do expect in a Great Friend?

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