Listen & Learn Part 2

Leading By Listening 

Written by:
Sarah Colantonio, Professor of Communications at Millersville University
Kedren Crosby, VP of Organizational Behavior, E4 Strategic Consultancy

Communication is a Duet, Not a Solo
Check most college course listings and you’re likely to find a communication class in public speaking.  Rarely does a class on listening appear on those lists.  And while researchers estimate we spend about half of our communication listening, we aren’t well prepared.

The truth is that most of us have only been taught one side of communication.

Listening, if done well, is far more powerful than writing and public speaking and even power posing (but we are still grateful, Amy Cuddy).  Listening provides an invaluable opportunity to see inside of others.  Listening is an underrated, under-practiced and rarely taught super power.  Listening is not just jet fuel for your own career, but it can also transform the people and outcomes of the organizations that you lead.

Listening is Jet Fuel, And it Makes You Sexy, Too
Listening expert Judith Pollack says that “listening can have a dramatic effect on your personal and professional success.” Because…

  • When you listen, you teach the other person to listen too.
  • You’ll seem smart.
  • You actually will become smarter because you’ll know more.
  • You’ll get the other person to trust and like you.
  • You won’t make as many mistakes.
  • You’ll be a calmer person and it’ll make the people around you feel calmer too.

A Convert’s Story
Biotech CEO, Kevin Sharer started his career in his 30s as a horrible listener focused on ‘intellectual winning’ instead of comprehension.  “It wasn’t an evil, megalomania-driven thing; it was mostly because I was a striver, I wanted to get ahead.”  One day it all changed. It was a simple comment from a leader and colleague he admired, Sam Palmisano. When asked why a particular work experience in Japan was so important to him, Sam replied, “Because I learned to listen.” He learned that it’s less about persuading people and more about setting aside critique and really listening.  “Listening for comprehension helps you get that information, of course, but it’s more than that: it’s also the greatest sign of respect you can give someone.”
(Why I’m a listener: Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer McKinsey Quarterly 2012).

 CEOs and leaders can infuse listening in some of the same transformative ways that Sharer did.  Consider adopting some of the following habits within your organization;

  1. Create a CULTURE OF LISTENING and respect based on shaping your own organizational behavior built on who is hired as well as what existing habits are tolerated, rewarded and incentivized.  You can engender an environment of attentiveness, partnership, teamwork, trust, and respect (and fire anyone with a bullying tendency).
  2. Develop STRATEGIC LISTENING which is a purposeful, multifaceted, time-sensitive listening system that helps you get the signals you need from your organization’s ecosystem.  This involves regularly visiting with, and listening to, people in the company who don’t necessarily report to the CEO.
  3. Adopt effective LISTENING HABITS (including patience and humility).  Listening can be learned, but to change your behavior you’ve got to have deep self-awareness. Sharer said that before his epiphany, he had been about 90 percent tell and 10 percent listen, and realized that he needed to be closer to 50-50.  There has to be a certain humility to listen well.  It’s no longer about me telling you what to do because I believe I’m smarter than you are.
  4. Listen for the PSYCHOLOGY of the situation. Listen at the level that allows you to discern the underlying thinking and motivations of the people who help you achieve so that you can help them become even more effective.

Test Yourself
Here is a Listening Self-Assessment courtesy of

Test yourself with this assessment before your next staff meeting.  Try it again after your next board meeting.  Even simply reading the evaluation is enlightening.

  1. I remember the main points of what I hear.
  2. I know the purpose of my listening and at the end, I check to see if my purpose has been met.
  3. I stay focused on listening; I don’t spend listening time planning my response.
  4. I wait to hear the speaker’s full message; I don’t jump to conclusions or argue mentally.
  5. I recognize and close out potential distractions to listening.
  6. I clarify and summarize points of agreement or disagreement.
  7. I attempt to follow the speaker’s train of thought.
  8. I judge the message on its content, not on the style or delivery of the speaker.
  9. I provide feedback to the speaker and ask for more information if necessary
  10. I know that listening doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing.

Now, evaluate yourself using these ten questions after a lengthy holiday dinner with your in-laws. Your workplace may be the far easier place to begin honing your listening skills, after all.

 “If there is any hope for us, it lies in relearning to tell the truth and hear it, and in reclaiming ourselves as a listening species.”
-Maria Popova (creator of Brain Pickings)

Sarah Colantonio is a Professor of Communications at Millersville University. Contact her at

Kedren Crosby is VP of Organizational Behavior at E4 Strategic Consultancy. Contact her at or 717.690.2056.

Click here to read our previous blog post in this series – Listen & Learn Part 1: Transform Your Team Without Saying a Word

Click here to view upcoming trainings from the Nonprofit Resource Network

Millersville University launched the Solutions for Success blog to share information and insights as well as resources and training opportunities available through Millersville University Graduate & Professional Studies including the Nonprofit Resource NetworkCorporate University, and the Certified Public Manager program.

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Listen & Learn – Part 1

Transform Your Team Without Saying a Word:
4 Quiet Tools to Enhance Performance and Joy

Written by:
Kedren Crosby, VP for Strategic Organizational Behavior, E4 Strategic Consultancy
Sarah Colantonio, Professor of Communications at Millersville University

Brandon was working in finance in Chicago when he started taking pictures of strangers on the street just for fun. Then, abruptly, he was fired from his job. He moved to New York City and kept taking pictures of interesting New Yorkers (is there another kind?) as if it were his full-time job. He not only asked the people he encountered on the sidewalks if he could take their photo, but more importantly, he also asked them questions about their lives. Next, Brandon listened to what they told him. He chronicled what he heard and saw. Now his Humans of New York has millions of followers on Facebook and a book on the NY Times best seller list. “When I was younger, I thought listening was just about learning the contents of someone’s mind. I’d always try to finish their thoughts just to show them that I knew what they were thinking. As I got older, I learned to listen better. I realized that by trying to anticipate their mind, I was ignoring their heart.” Brandon Stanton’s success was made possible not because he is an exceptionally talented photographer, but rather because he now knows how to hear their hearts.

In spite of the fact that we (Sarah and Kedren) are professors and consultants who specialize in COMMUNICATIONS, we’ve both been guilty of the same thing Brandon Stanton was guilty of; ignoring what’s most vital by failing to listen. We’re learning from our bruises some concrete ways to be less ignorant.

We’re a team. Chances are you’re on at least one team, too – maybe it’s a work team or a sports team or a marriage or a family. Since we hope to have another 40 years of teamwork ahead of us (with our colleagues, family members, fellow parishioners, board members, friends, each other…), we decided to make a concerted effort to learn how to listen in ways that will improve the success and spirit of our teams. Each month, we are putting ourselves through the paces of a new ‘listening challenge’ to develop new receptive communication skills. Subsequently, we are writing about how these listening tools help us grow, learn, wake up and hear our epic fails.

The Listening Challenges
The following four Listening Challenges have the ability to transform your team in quietly miraculous ways. Being part of a fully present and openly hearing team can position you for unprecedented success. You may want to work together to adopt one Listening Challenge each month and then incrementally build your collective capacity for actively listening over a year. You may be ambitious and decide to dive in and adopt of them simultaneously. Agree to become accountability partners and gently remind your team if they slip. Envision how your team’s productivity, communications, creativity and values will grow in authenticity, respect, empathy and even speed if you master the following Listening Challenges.

1. The Lean-in-and-we-mean-that-literally Challenge
Show physical interest and attention to your teammates using eye contact and overall receptive body language.

The results of a survey taken with New York City hospital patients regarding 2-minute visits by doctors is telling. All of the visits were just two minutes long, but the doctors who stood to talk to patients were perceived as spending far less time with the patient and not really listening. Patients reported that those doctors who pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed and looked into the patient’s eyes were truly interested in the patient and were perceived to have spent more time on the visit.

Julia Wood’s Communication Mosiacs shares the results of an experiment where researchers taught college psychology students responsive listening techniques (eye contact, nodding, open posture, smiling). The researchers then had the students apply these newly learned responsive listening techniques on a painfully boring history professor. This professor was notorious for reading his notes in a monotone voice for a torturous hour. On the day of the experiment, the psychology students came to class and, after a few minutes of their normal listening posture in the painfully boring lecture, the students all kicked into high gear with their newly minted responsive listening techniques. It was if this professor became an entirely new man. He blossomed. He became animated. He started to interact with the students. He flourished – just as we want our teammates to do! But here’s the kicker – the experiment required that at a certain point there would be a preplanned signal and the psychology students would cease all responsive listening techniques. Upon the signal, the students suddenly returned to slouching and passively taking notes. The professor tried vigorously to reengage the students for a few minutes, but after his failed attempts to reignite their responsive listening with the students still unresponsive, he reverted to his dreadfully monotone note-reading. The moral to this story is that you can positively and enthusiastically morph others into the greatest version of themselves without saying a word.

2. The iPhone Challenge. Put it away (both physically and emotionally) when you are trying to connect with a real human.
One of the greatest gifts you can give another person is your full attention. When Sarah asked her students how they felt when they were truly listened to, one respondent resonated, “I’m surprised!” We are all distracted by the threat or hope of dinging notifications from our devices. Just how essential is that new email or comment on our Facebook post or meeting reminder? NPR sponsored their own related challenge in March 2015. “The Bored and Brilliant Challenge” encourages participants to keep phones in their purses or pockets with the goal of looking up, seeing the world and interacting with other people. A visionary Vice President at a local multi-million dollar organization refuses to allow smart phones into his office. Say no to the phone while you are trying to connect in person.

3. Pregnant Pausing. Don’t interrupt and see how magically the silence works for you.
In yet another study with doctors and patients, researchers studied the impact of doctors interrupting patients less than 30 seconds into the patient’s description of their illness. The study also tested what happened when doctors waited until the patient finished fully explaining their problem. The surprising findings were that on average, patients spoke for only 90 seconds before finishing their description, AND the uninterrupted description provided the doctors with a far clearer picture of the underlying cause of their patient’s illness. Almost as important is the fact that the doctors who allowed their patients to speak for 90 seconds were perceived to be more likeable and competent simply because they listened. Often our instinct is to jump in to demonstrate our own brilliance which prevents other people from finishing their equally brilliant thoughts. We miss out on their truth (and their respect) if we finish for them.

4. Grow a Third Ear: Listen to hear your teammate’s motivations, anxieties and underlying interests.
This is a grown up challenge and the culmination of the other three challenges. It requires the listener to tap into intuition, ultimate interests and attention. Theodor Reik, a Freud trained psychoanalyst, wrote a book in 1948 which describes how to understand and relate to others using observation and analysis that requires both self-awareness and a deepened awareness of the speaker’s interests and motivations. It is easiest to grow this third ear by beginning to listen to yourself. Read between your own lines. Listen to your own themes. Hear what you emphasize and the repeating of certain words. Note your own sequencing and cadence. Write down what you hear and then branch out to listening to the interests and motivations, themes, words, sequencing, and cadence of the words of others on your team. You will be surprised at what you learn. Learning how to ‘hear between the lines’ gives you the jet fuel you need to effectively motivate, strategize and organize both yourself and your teammates.

We would love for you to tell us how the Listening Challenges are working out for your team! As much as we like success stories, we particularly love the epic fails. We’ll be listening!

Kedren Crosby is VP for Strategic Organizational Behavior at E4 Strategic Consultancy. Contact her at or 717.690.2056.

Sarah Colantonio is a professor of Communications at Millersville University. Contact her at

Learn more about the Importance of Listening in our upcoming NRN workshop Outstanding Customer Service, part of the Nonprofit & Municipal Professional Development Series. Register today!

Stay tuned for our next blog post – Listen & Learn Part 2: Leading by Listening

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Different Worlds, Shared Solutions

Written by Cheryl L. Batdorf, D.B.A, Associate Dean, College of Graduate & Professional Studies at Millersville University

While we recognize there are differences between for-profit, non-profit, and government agencies, there are also many similarities between the three.  At Millersville University, through our professional studies offerings, the similarities are easier to spot.

For instance, all three entities include mission, vision or statement of purpose, planning, working with people, budgeting, limited resources, addressing the needs of stakeholders, shareholders or customers, communication, relationships and performance measurement. The list could be endless!

By shifting our focus to partnering with other organizations and agencies to accomplish our mission, we can create new perspectives, share expertise and maximize the value of limited resources.  Rather than a sense of competition, finding those partnerships that allow us to complement each other will leverage shared resources and existing expertise. Many grants and initiatives require collaboration for greater community impact. One example of a recent successful collaborative community effort is the rebuilding of downtown Lancaster through the Arts. The City of Lancaster, Lancaster County Community Foundation, nonprofits, businesses, artists, and patrons revitalized Lancaster through partnership and shared goals.

Common to the success of all organizations is leadership.  Leadership, generally speaking, is getting others to work toward a common goal.  The leader may also be defined as someone who inspires, motivates and garners commitment.  Taking the time to develop (managing and evaluating) employees, uncovering what motivates them and building teams are powerful tools to create purpose in your workforce.  That purpose can then be channeled by each person to make a difference for the organization, resulting in met goals, satisfied customers and clients, and strong relationships.

Through our three service platforms, the Nonprofit Resource Network, Corporate University, or our Certified Public Manager program, we can provide training for your employees, your boards, or the individual in the areas of supervision, leadership, succession planning and financial sustainability.

While you may come from different worlds, Millersville University seeks to offer shared solutions for success through professional education and community partnership.

Millersville University, Nonprofit Resource Network, and the Lancaster Inter-Municipal Committee are partnering to provide Organizational Performance Training for nonprofit and municipal professionals. 

 Register today for Nonprofit & Municipal Professional Development Series 

Related Articles:

How Nonprofits Differ From For-Profits – and How They Are the Same

Striving for No Difference: Examining Effective Leadership Between Nonprofit and For-Profit Contexts

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