Episode 208 – The Missing Ingredient to Effective Communication with Oscar Trimboli
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Rob Shallenberger: Alright, welcome back to the Becoming Your Best podcast. This is Rob Shallenberger, your host today. I’m excited to have with me Oscar Trimboli, an amazing person I just had the chance, recently, over the last few minutes, to visit with him and get to know him a little bit better. We get a lot of people who reach out wanting to be on this podcast, so we’re pretty selective in who we bring on because we want to provide you with the very best. There’s a lot of noise and things to choose from out there in the world, and we want to share with you things that will truly impact your mindset and your skillset, and all of us helping us on that journey to become our very best. And so, as you know this is centered around the 12 Principles of Highly Successful People and Leaders. Those 12 Principles are very predictive of success, and Principle #7, for those who have attended the seminars, keynotes, read the book, you know that Principle #7 is to Be an Effective Communicator. We’re going to get deep into this and why that particular principle is so important in our lives, in our businesses, and really, across the board, and Oscar is an expert in this particular principle. So, first of all, Oscar, welcome to the podcast and tell everyone a little bit about yourself.
Oscar Trimboli: Yeah, good day, Rob! I’ve lived, loved, and spent all my life in Sydney, Australia – I think I won the genetic lottery to post-war migrants from war-torn Italy came to Australia, and despite the fact they came from the top end, and the bottom end of Italy, I was the firstborn son out of that wonderful marriage. I’m lucky enough that for the last part of my career, I spent 11 years at Microsoft – the last five as a Marketing Director there – and many people told me, “If you could code the way you listen, Oscar, you could change the world.” And too many people told me that for it to be just a coincidence. I’m on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world, to help reduce chaos conflict and confusion in workplaces, particularly, but that kind of spills over into home life, as well.
Rob Shallenberger: Oh, yeah! I mean, anybody listening to this can relate in that, if there’s a relationship, if they have a partner, children, co-workers, customers – this is something that all of us face every day on a daily basis, and it’s something that would become a little anemic too. In other words, we just kind of get a little bit complacent when it comes to listening, and we do what we do. So, that’s why, in this podcast, I’d like to get a little deeper into listening and what this really means to all of us, for that matter. And so, let’s start with this thought of, you used the term, “deep listening”. What is deep listening? It’s a great concept. What does that mean?
Oscar Trimboli: It’s interesting because the communication equation is 50% speaking, 50% listening. The more senior you are in an organization, the more likely you’re going to be spending more time listening and less time actually speaking. In fact, the executives spend up to 83% of their day listening, but the interesting number is only 2% of them have ever been taught how to listen. So there’s this huge gap: most people in the workplace by the second decade of the career have already had five training courses on how to speak, but none on how to listen. So, some people might have heard the term, “active listening”, and there was a very strong movement in the ’80s that taught people to paraphrase, to say things like, “Mm-hmm”, and make sure they’re making eye-contact, which I know you guys teach, in Principle #7 around how to be an effective communicator. But a lot of people think listening is about the listener making sense of what the speaker is saying. And although that’s useful, deep listening is helping the speaker make sense of what they mean, so it’s helping them understand what they say.
Oscar Trimboli: There’s a very simple piece of neuroscience that sits behind this, and if you only take one thing out of today’s podcast, it would be this: we speak at 125 words a minute, yet, we can think at up to 900 words a minute. So, when you’re listening to someone, the likelihood that the first thing out of their mouth is actually what they mean, is about an 11% chance that what they say is what they mean. So, Rob, I don’t know about you, I spend probably too much time visiting a doctor at this stage of my life, but if my doctor, Dr. John, said to me, “Good news, Oscar, you’ve got an 11% chance of surviving this surgery”, I’m getting a second opinion. But most of us do that in conversation. We have better odds on a roulette wheel at a casino than we have by just taking what the person says the first time as what they mean. So they’ve got 125 words they say, but they’ve got another 800 words stuck in their head. And for a lot of us, if we could just practice these two phrases, it’s simply, “What else?” and “Tell me more!” If we could practice those two phrases, we could get another 125 words out of their mind, and something really potent happens. And Rob, I’m sure you’ve heard people use these phrases. If you ask them to “Tell me more” or “What else?” they take a deep breath in, and they go, “Well, you know, actually, what we should be talking about is…” or they’ll say, “You know, what’s really important right now…”, or “Thinking about it a little longer, where we should go is…”. When you hear these phrases, you’re starting to get those other 125 words out. Potent listeners, deep listeners, are the ones who are helping the speaker make sense of what they’re saying, rather than the listener making sense of what they’re saying – and that’s where it becomes really transformational because people use phrases like, “Wow, you really listen to me!”, and that does something else in your principles: it increases trust dramatically when you listen well.
Rob Shallenberger: Yeah. And wouldn’t you agree, Oscar, from your experience that it’s so contrary to our current culture? You’re in Australia, we’re in the United States, people are listening to this in South Africa, Russia, all over, and one of my observations across the board throughout the world is that we are so wired to go into problem-solving mode, that we just seem to want to jump right in there and solve problems and that shortcut is what you’re talking about here, of deep listening.
Oscar Trimboli: Long-term ancient cultures, whether they’re Chinese, Japanese, whether they’re the Inuit of North America or the Aborigines of Australia, patience, silence particularly – in the West, we have this dysfunctional relationship with silence. We use a term like, “pregnant pause” or “deafening silence” or “awkward silence” – yet in these other cultures, in cultures that have sustained themselves in a millennium, not weeks or months or years, but millennium, these cultures revere and respect silence. It’s a sign of wisdom, it’s a sign of authority. So, just the patience, if you could just pause a little bit longer when somebody speaks, often what you’ll notice is they haven’t finished saying anything. They’re just collecting their thoughts. So, if those two phrases, “Tell me more” and “What else” were the moves you want to make, if you were a ninja listener, silence would be one of the things in your toolkit that you would use a little bit more often. And it’s not a distracted silence, it’s a leaning-in kind of silence and just showing the person a little bit more respect. So, I think it’s not that we don’t know this is true – listening matters. You see, Rob, when we’re conceived, at 20 weeks inside our mother’s womb, we can already distinguish the sound of our mother’s voice from any other sound, and at 32 weeks we can distinguish Beethoven from Bon Jovi, from Beaver – we can distinguish music. So the first skill we ever learn is the skill of listening, yet the minute we come into the world, the moment we scream – that’s the sign of our birth. In fact, a lot of hospitals will use that moment as the moment where you’re recorded as the moment you’re born, is when you start your first scream into the world – we spend the rest of our lives trying to get noticed by speaking rather than being noticed by speaking and listening.
Rob Shallenberger: A couple of things that just stood out to me there: number one, I love the term, “awkward pause” or “awkward silence” – it’s very difficult for a lot of us to do that because it is awkward, whether it’s with the children, spouse, co-workers, whoever. And number two is how quickly and how young, like you were talking about there, things start to evolve, and we develop these listening skills and start to distinguish. So, let me roll into another question here from a different perspective. Since we’re talking about listening here, people listening to this particular podcast are on a quest to become the very best version of themselves that they can, and to increase their capacity, both their mindset and skill set. And I’m often asked, of the 12 Principles, which one is the most difficult to live. Now, that may vary, certainly, depending a little bit on the background and the situation, but if I had to choose one, across the board, that’s the most difficult one to really master, it would be this one, “Be an Effective Communicator” and really listening because it just seems to be so contrary to our current wiring and culture. So, a lot of us are in this quest of going from good, looking for our better and ultimately, what our best might look like. What’s the difference, in your opinion from a good listener – which I would categorize a lot of us may be in the good listener category – what’s the difference between a good listener and a great listener?
Oscar Trimboli: The difference is where we start. So, for many people, they think they need to start by focusing on the speaker – and that’s useful, but it’s not powerful, it’s not productive, it’s not potent. 86% of people in our research database struggle with distraction. They’re distracted by what they’re thinking about coming into the conversation, they might be thinking about what’s coming up next in the conversation, they might be tuned into the radio station in their own mind about this relationship – “Oh, every time I talk to this person, it’s always drama” or “Every time I talk to this person, it’s really detailed” or “Every time I talk to this person, we just don’t make the progress as fast as we can” – and while we’re tuned into our own radio station, powerful listening starts with YOU, and you being fully present in the conversation. Most people have internal distractions, as well as external distractions – laptops, cell phones, iPads, you name it, things that will distract people. So here’s three tips. These are really simple tips that you can practice while you’re listening, because you’re distracted while you’re listening to me and Rob, right now – you may be chopping up vegetables while you’re listening, preparing a meal, you might be on a run, you might be commuting. So, the other rule is the 125-400 rule: I speak at 125 words a minute, you can listen at 400, you are programmed to be distracted. So these three tips are there to help you remove distraction.
Oscar Trimboli: So, tip number one is to switch off all those devices that provide any kind of electronic stimulus to you. Now, a lot of you, I know, are just feeling like you’ve gone cold turkey when Oscar has told you to turn off devices, but start on a gradient scale. Switch off the notifications, put them on to silent or vibrate as a starting position. And then, once you do that, move to airplane mode or flight mode, and then finally switch them off. The next tip is, drink water. Not enough of the West drinks water – in fact, they’re dehydrated most of their day. You should be drinking a glass of water about every half an hour, and if you’re in a meeting with someone make sure they’re drinking water as well. A hydrated brain is a listening brain because listening takes place at the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, and with no training, it’s difficult for us to have a simple pattern to do, so a lot of people, when they start trying to listen they go, “My head hurts!” And it’s not that your head hurts. It’s that our brain is only 5% of our body mass, yet it consumes 26% of our blood sugars, and the fastest way to get blood sugars up into the brain is to make sure you’re hydrated.
Oscar Trimboli: And then finally, three deep breaths before the conversation takes place. Now, Rob, I’m not saying get into a yoga pose and take a moment and cross your legs. I’ll show you how I do this when I walk into a client building: I cross the lobby floor, that’s the signal for me to switch my cell phone off and put it in my bag. When I get into the lift, I move to the very back of the lift and I put my back up against the lift, close my eyes if nobody’s in the lift, and I take three deep breaths. Now, unfortunately, three weeks ago, my ears popped because I went to a really high building and at about level 38, my ears popped because I’ve got a bit of an issue with my left ear. When I came out of the lift, I didn’t have my three deep breaths, and I noticed this straight away, so rather than going left to the reception, I just turned right to the restrooms, practiced the same thing – three deep breaths – and then I came out. I’m often offered refreshments by reception when I arrive, “Would you like a coffee? Would you like tea?” And I always say, “I’d love a jug of water for me and my guest.” And with those three simple things, most people say they double their listening productivity because they’re actually available to the other person to listen. So those three things, again, are: get rid of the electronic devices, take three deep breaths and drink water. They’re very simple things to do, yet very difficult to practice, but if you do those three things, you’re listening productivity will double straightaway.
Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, I love it because those are really simple to actually do, but very rarely done. And powerful! Devices – I’m sure everybody listening to this, including myself, is guilty of trying to multitask while listening, which in reality is a fallacy – you can’t multitask and, like you’re saying, deeply and truly listen, and be looking through email, right?
Oscar Trimboli: And it kind of reminds me of a story. I was working with Mick about four years ago, he was a client. He’s a CEO in an organization – and this is where you need to be careful with listening because it spills over into your home life. He rang me up on a Monday, it was about 8:15, and he said, “You nearly cost me my marriage last Friday.” I took a deep breath, and I basically practiced what I just said, “Tell me more!” And he said, “My wife took me aside after we put the kids to bed on Friday night, it was about 7:45, she cleared the dining room table, and she said those words every husband dreads – we need to talk.” And he sat down, and she looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Look, I know you’re having an affair. Just tell me who it is, and we’ll move on. I don’t need you to make up a story about why, I just need to know who.” And in that moment, Mick was just saying, “What would Oscar do right now? What would Oscar do?” So he breathed and he said, “Tell me more.” And his wife said, “In the last 90 days, things have changed. I know you’re having an affair, tell me who it is.” And Mick smiled because he realized what had happened, and he said to his wife, “This is not what you think, it’s actually a man.” And his poor wife burst into tears assuming the worst, and in that moment, he said, “No, no, no! There’s this guy, he’s teaching me how to listen.” And with that, she smiled, and she said, “I knew something had changed because I’ve never felt more sexy in our whole 12 years of our marriage than in the last 90 days. And because something had changed, I knew you were having an affair.” And he went on to explain that he’s being taught how to listen. And she said, “The act of you paying attention to me has changed the way I think about our relationship.” And those are the things that happen when you actually listen. I asked Mick, what changed him. He said, “I always tried to fix my wife. I tried to fix everything she said. And now, when I went home, I just listened to her, I didn’t try and solve.” So, it’s an interesting difference between how men listen, and how women listen; it’s marginal, but it’s significant. Men listen to fix and women listen to feel. So if both genders are conscious of that difference, then communication will evolve rapidly at home, but also in the workplace as well.
Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, I’m glad you shared that story. It’s kind of the perfect example there of what we see so often, like we talked about earlier, that we’re always geared to go towards problem-solving or fix-it mode, for most people, and that’s why being conscious of some of these powerful tools that you’re discussing, can help us flip that so that we’re not so wired to problem-solve – tell me more. What else? So let me go a different direction here, Oscar. I love having tips that will help us and there’s also an awareness that comes when we know and are conscious of things that we’re doing, potentially that are wrong. So there’s really two sides to that coin and you use the term, “The Four Villains of Listening” – we’re talking about the same thing here. So explain what the four villains of listening are, and what’s that other side of the coin?
Oscar Trimboli: It’s that listening as a problem is actually an awareness issue. 82% of us think we’re above average car drivers, 81% of us think we’re above average IQ, and no matter where you go around the globe, it’s roughly between 81-86% of us think we’re above average listeners. And so, the listening villains are there to shine a light on your listening blind spots – where you get your listening wrong. So the four villains of listening are the dramatic listener, the interrupting listener, the lost listener, and the shrewd listener. So, think of the worst listener you know, while I’m describing each of these villains quickly, and Rob, we’ll see where the worst listener you know is. We won’t ask you to name them but which one of these characters do they show up as?
Oscar Trimboli: So the dramatic listener listens for emotion. They love your story because it gives them an opportunity to create a stage on which they can tell theirs. So you might say, “We’re really struggling with a merger inside our organization right now.” The dramatic listener will say, “Oh, you think you’ve got a bad merger? Let me tell you about my mergers, not only one but four that were awful – people lost their jobs, we had awful bosses, we had bad procedures.” Or you might say to them, “I’m really struggling with my boss at the moment (or my manager or my supervisor).” And they’ll say, “You think you’ve got a bad supervisor? Let me tell you about mine.” That’s the dramatic listener. Now, their intention is honorable – their listening orientation is listening for the emotion in the words and we’ll come back to where that can be powerful and a strength, shortly.
Oscar Trimboli: The next one is the interrupting listener, and these are the most overt and the easiest to identify. These people, the minute you draw a breath, jump in thinking it’s a commercial break for them to give you their opinion – disproportionately represented in kind of talkback hosts who are kind of always interrupting the caller coming in, and often almost a caricature. Now, again, the interrupting listener is there to solve. They’re trying to help. They’re trying to be helpful, but they’re very time-conscious, so they’re going to interrupt.
Oscar Trimboli: The next one is the lost listener. They come across as vague, they don’t make eye contact, they’re not sure why they’re there, they’re not sure why they’re in this meeting. So the lost listener could come across as vague, distracted, they might come across as they’re not sure why they’re there. They’re not really good with the eye-contact and the dialogue in their head is, “If I listen a little bit longer, I can kind of join the dots in this conversation and I’ll just be patient because I’m sure they’ll give me a couple of clue words that will unlock the safe that is this whole conversation.” But while they’re trying to listen for these keywords, they’re just drifting off, they’re lost.
Oscar Trimboli: The last one is the shrewd listener. A shrewd listener is amazing! Most people think that they are listening really well. They’re the kind of people that will stroke their chin and nod at you and gaze into your eyes, but the captioning inside their mind sounds like this: “Oh my goodness, that’s such a basic problem! I’ve solved that! And I can think of three problems you haven’t even thought about. I’m such an expert. I’ll just pretend on listening while I’m solving these three problems for you and then, like a magic trick, I’m going to give you the answers when you finish speaking.” Now, again, no different to the interrupting listener, they’re actually trying to solve a problem, but in doing so, they often solve a problem that doesn’t exist because they’re not listening to the person while they’re trying to solve the problem. Now, these people are disproportionately represented in sales professions, they’re disproportionately represented in any brief-taking profession, like a doctor, a physical therapist, a lawyer, an accountant – anybody who does take any kind of brief. So those four villains, Rob, I’m curious, which one frustrates you the most?
Rob Shallenberger: That’s a good question back. You know, it’s funny because I can pick out where I’m at, too.
Oscar Trimboli: Yeah.
Rob Shallenberger: People who take these assessments, personality assessments – DISC, or whatever the version of it is, you know, a driver oftentimes would probably be the interrupter because they want to get to the point. You know, what’s the point here?
Oscar Trimboli: Is that you?
Rob Shallenberger: I’m a strong driver, yes, very goal, results-focused, so I would be more in the interruption category.
Oscar Trimboli: Listening is situational as well as relational. We’ll listen differently to a manager than we will our mother and we’ll listen differently to a school principal compared to a police officer. Typically, we listen differently. I’m a shrewd listener at work, but at home, I’m a lost listener. So, if you think about these things, they show up differently in different conversations. It’s not always one size fits all, but we do have a primary preference, like your DISC profile.
Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, that’s a great point there. And it’s funny because I like the statistics that you quoted there, a lot of them revolved around 80%, a little plus – 81-82% – we feel like we were good drivers, had a higher IQ than normal, and that we were good listeners. And the reality is, it’s not until we look in the mirror sometimes that across the board, really… And this is why I said, this principle, if you had asked me of the 12, which is the most challenging – this one – and you just mentioned something interesting. What I found in my experience is, when it comes to this principle of listening, the closer we are to someone emotionally many times, the more challenging it is to truly listen. I find it actually really fairly easy to practice these steps – “What else?” “Tell me more.” – with someone who’s a total stranger, but when it’s your spouse or your kids, and there’s a high level of emotion, it’s a whole different animal, just like you were alluding to, you know, it’s different at work than it is at home.
Oscar Trimboli: Yeah. I speak in all these corporate environments on big stages, 5, 6, 7, 8000 people, do you know the most common question I always get asked is? “What do I have to do to teach my kids how to listen?” And I kind of always scratch my head and go, “I’ve talked about these statistics and stories in the workplace and this is one thing that people struggle with.” And then, one after that is, “How do I be a better listener when it comes to my spouse?” So these are really common issues because the closer the relationship, the more difficult it is. So a really simple practice for when you’re listening to children – by the way, you’re teaching your kids how to listen every day by your very actions and the way you listen to them – but if I could say one thing, if you could get your eyes to your children’s eye-level every time you speak to them, you would completely transform the relationship. So, that might mean crouching down, so you answer at their eye-level, it might mean lifting them up on a bench. And I’m going to talk about a distinction when it gets to teenagers, but if you’ve got younger kids and you travel for your work, and you call them or you FaceTime them, the same is true – make sure your eyes are at their eye-level when you’re calling them; it will completely transform the way you listen to them.
Rob Shallenberger: That’s interesting! Well, I can’t believe, Oscar, that it has been 27 minutes already. So, let me ask you, as we get ready to wrap up here, and then I’m going to have you share your website and how people can find you, but one more question is… I mean, you’ve given some great tips here: the “what else – tell me more”, the hydration, devices, the three deep breaths – I’ve just been taking notes here – avoiding the comparison, the overt listener, the lost listener, etc. For someone listening to this right now, across the board, whether they’re at home, whether they’re in the workforce, wherever they’re at, what’s one thing that across the board you say, “Do this today, and it will have a big impact in your life.” And you’ve given some great advice, but if you can narrow it down to one thing, just say, “Hey, this afternoon, you’re listening to the podcast right now. Go home or go to your work environment, wherever that is, this afternoon, this evening and do this.” What would that be?
Oscar Trimboli: If you want to honor the person you’re having a conversation with, get rid of every electronic device, so you’re completely present for the conversation, and you will be different in your workplace, you will be more productive in your workplace, the projects you work on will more likely land on time, more likely land on budget, because you won’t be confused by what they’ve said or what you think you’re supposed to do. The number one barrier to everybody’s listening is distractions. The technology industry has done an amazing job of programming humans to pay attention to the red dots, the beeps, the buzzes – and good for them – but the reality is, it hasn’t improved the human condition. So, in every conversation remove any electronic device, you’ll be transformed, and you’ll be your best self.
Rob Shallenberger: Yeah, I love it, Oscar! What a great invitation! I’m going to take that today, this afternoon. I invite all of our listeners this afternoon, this morning, whenever you’re listening to this podcast, do that throughout the day – let’s take our electronic devices, let’s set them aside, turn it off, turn it into airplane mode, like Oscar suggested, do whatever we need to do to put that electronic device aside and truly focus on the person and be present with the person who we’re interacting with. I’m going to do that with my children and my spouse tonight. I’m about to walk back into the office from our recording studio – I’m going to do that this afternoon. So, Oscar, thank you so much for being on the podcast! Great advice, great thoughts, certainly pertinent, relevant to everybody listening to this and something that we can all focus on and do a better job at is really listening and listening deeply, and being more committed to the people who we surround ourselves with in the workplace, at home, and across the board. So for those who would like to find out more about you, Oscar, how could they find you?
Oscar Trimboli: The easiest place to go is to visit listeningmyths.com and at listeningmyths.com I’ll give you the five most common mistakes people make with their listening and what to do about it in a very simple download for your listeners to keep them on track because listening is a practice, listening is something that you will never get right, it’s something you need to work on every day. So if you visit listeningmyths.com, Rob, that’s the simple place to everything with regard to listening.
Rob Shallenberger: That’s perfect! That’s easy to find – listeningmyths.com. We’ll have that link in the text of the podcast as well. So, Oscar, thank you so much for being on the podcast. To all of our Becoming Your Best listeners, we sure appreciate you and remember that one person can make a difference. It’s one person doing this, just like the spouse example that Oscar shared. So we invite you to put these principles, these ideas into practice, just like I’m going to do and just like Oscar does – this is a worldwide effort and movement. So we thank you, we wish you a wonderful week and thanks again for being on the podcast!