Aranjuez, Spain

Martyn Richard Jones

Bruxelles 19th May 2019

Listen well

I am a big fan of listening well and in continually improving listening skills. Yes, there are times when we can over-listen but this is also linked with skills of diplomacy and politics. How we listen should inform us a lot about what we and others really are.

So, whilst I am a big advocate of listening well I see that the world of business, and especially the sub-world of IT, is plagued with vain, impulsive and badly informed vote-takers who stubbornly resist the need to listen well and who will attempt to deftly fill the whole of the available time bashing their gums in communicating what are to all intents and purposes vacuous inanities and long litanies of meaningless clichés, full of terms that they either abuse or misunderstand; or even a bit of both.

And, as anyone who has worked with IT will know, I am not making this up. We used to call this charlatanry now we simply call it consulting. It still isn’t turning a pig’s ear into a silk purse, no matter how much people insist. But, there it is, in all its magnificent mediocrity.

Some people tell me it’s because IT attracts people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome; whatever that is.

I tend to put this refusal to listen down to other things; my money is firmly on arrogance and ignorance.

But, they just don’t get it, do they?

The importance of listening well

I joined the great Sperry Univac in March of 1980. The previous year the Sperry Corporation had embarked on a revolutionary and innovative programme of coordinated advertising, PR and training ever seen in IT.

But the programme didn’t focus on systems hardware, software or services, but on effective listening. It was translated into five languages and tailored to meet the needs of managers, supervisors, marketing people, salespeople, and the general employee population. The advertising slogan that accompanied the programme was “We understand how important it is to listen”. I was so impressed that I even had the programme slogan on the back of my company car.

I loved that company…

The goals of the programme were to:

1 – Create an awareness of the importance of listening.

2 – Learn how to overcome the barriers to listening.

3 – Identify poor listening habits and practice.

4 – Improve responsive listening skills.

During the first twelve months of the worldwide initiative more than 13,000 Sperry Corporation employees, through 600 one-day listening seminars – designed by communications consultant Lyman K. Steil – had benefitted from participating in the programme.

After the first eighteen months, the programme was evaluated and the findings reviewed, it indicated that:

1 – A far greater awareness had been created throughout the corporation as to the importance of listening well.

2 – People had become considerably more aware of the barriers to effective listening; they now knew how to identify these barriers and how to overcome them.

3 – Individuals, through the course of the program, were able to identify their own personal, listening habits and practices, and to think of ways to correct those shortfalls and to significantly improve their listening skills.

4 – Overall, responsive listening skills had significantly improved.

In 2003, Technical writer and Editor Polly Traylor remarked that “In the end, 44,000 Sperry workers learned the tenets of listening, which eventually became one of the reasons that they became such a business success.”

Leaders must nurture and hone effective listening skill otherwise they place themselves at a serious disadvantage.

Put it this way, as a leader you might be the most amazing talker this side of the Rockies, but if you can’t listen effectively then it would be like Nadal, Federer or Djokovic, having a great world-class tennis serve, but with a cultivated inability to accurately read the play or to return any difficult shot.

I am so glad that Sperry Univac gave me the opportunity to work for one of the greats of IT, and that I benefitted from their fabulous listening programme.

However, I am despondent that IT, in general, has learned little when it comes to listening.

My hope is that one day a real listening-transformation will hit business, including IT. It will be a great day for all.

Now, stick that in your learning journeys, if you have the colindrones.

Thank you for reading.

All the best,


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