What HR can learn from Bill Clinton, the ‘Albert Einstein of listening’

The ability to listen effectively is essential in HR, but how well do we really do it? Are we truly absorbing what people have to say, or simply waiting for our turn to speak?

What HR can learn from Bill Clinton, the ‘Albert Einstein of listening’
When most of us listen to someone else, we’re not really taking in what they’re saying, according to communications strategist and public speaking trainer Richard Greene.

“The typical person, whether they are an HR person or a business person, or a manager, listens in a way that I refer to as RTP listening – ready to pounce,” he says.

“It is essentially that the purpose of your listening is to seize the first available moment to reinforce your position, to counter the other person or to move on to the next subject. In other words, you’re not really listening. It’s all about you, it’s all about your strategic desires, it’s all about the next thing you want to do or say.”

Greene spent almost a decade studying former US President Bill Clinton, who he refers to as “the Albert Einstein of listening”, to figure out how he communicates so effectively.

“What I found out is that what he does as a listener, which is incredibly useful for HR people doing a performance review or even giving bad news, is that he listens in a neurologically different way and with a completely different system of body language communication than anyone else I had ever studied.”

He says the three steps of “full-body listening” are similar to eating – take in the information, digest and process it and respond.

“The first step is to fully listen and receive. That’s the hardest part because most people in the business world, when they are listening, are not 100 per cent there. It’s not looking over their shoulder, not thinking of something else, not even thinking about your response to what they said, 100 per cent receiving the information as if you were a blank slate.

“When they’re done saying what they want to say, instead of jumping in and responding, ask, ‘Is there anything more that I need to know?’ or ‘Is there anything more that you’d like to share?’ That alone creates this experience for the employee that there’s enormous acknowledgement.”

Once you have all the information, he says, take a moment to properly digest and analyse it before deciding how to respond.

“If HR people incorporate this, even when they’re giving difficult messages, there will be an increase in intimacy and loyalty and connection, rather than the reverse.”

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