Listening is a key skill in difficult conversation, but do we really listen when we face a moment of challenge.
Most of us fight or flight when faced with a difficult, but what would happen if just listened more effectively? In this Resolute Podcast, Vince Miller is joined by Bill English from Platinum Group and expert in the fields of counseling, business, and leadership. Bill English is a prolific author and the founder of Bible and Business. Today they discuss how to listen effectively even when the conversation seems to take a turn for the worse. Find out more about Bill’s latest seminars here.
Vince: This is Resolute, and the Resolute Leadership Podcast. I’m Vince Miller, your founder and host. And today we’re in a series that we have entitled, “Managing Difficult Conversations.” Today we’re discussing the topic – how to listen in a difficult conversation.
Well welcome back to the program. If this is your first time tuning in, well thank you for joining us. Our mission at Resolute is to disciple and develop men to lead. So if you’re looking for great content for your men’s group or your men’s ministry – then you need to go to our website today at beresolute.org. There’s a number of great tools there for you.
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Well guys, I am excited to introduce to you today, Bill English. He’s a good friend and comes with tons of experience from all over the business world. Bill is the founder of Bible and Business. He’s also an associate at the Platinum Group. A licensed psychologist. Holds double master’s degrees. And is a guest contributor on KTIS radio. He has authored 15 very technical books, and he draws on his experience in business ownership, pastoral experience, and psychological training – to help others in their efforts to be successful in business and life. This guy’s a rock star, and today we’re going to dive into a conversation with him over a few weeks, discussing the topic of managing difficult conversations. Bill, welcome to the show.
Bill: Alright thanks man, I’m glad I’m here.
Vince: Yeah we’re glad to have you. And really excited about this. This seminar that you’re holding. Where you’re going to teach and equip us to have difficult conversations in life. And I believe that this is a skill that every human being needs. Because it makes us better men, and it makes us better leaders. And I believe that if we’re really going to be a great leader or a manager or a business person or a husband or a father – we’re going to have to have difficult conversations at some point with somebody.
Bill: Yeah we are, yeah we are. And by the way, don’t let the word “business” in the title throw you off. These are – these skills are applicable – as you’re saying in every part of life.
Vince: Oh man, like last time we were just talking about evangelism.
Vince: And there’s difficult conversations we’re going to have in evangelism. And we’re going to have to figure out how to have those difficult conversations and lean into them. I mean, we live in a world today, Bill – where we are, as Christian men – becoming– It appears to feel like anomaly in this world. And conversations for us are just difficult, period. Especially when it comes to our faith, when it comes to our belief, when it comes to truth – right? And we have to lean into these things. And so, at some point we’re going to have to have a difficult conversation.
Now today I want to discuss with you a little bit of what listening looks like inside of a difficult conversation. I know sometimes, people like me can emotionally ramp up when we’re getting ready to have one of these moments, right? Or we’re experiencing one of them. I’ve done that over my lifetime, even though I may look calm in a difficult conversation when I’m having it, or it’s being had with me. I do that. That’s what I do. That happens inside of my soul. People may not see it, but it does.
Bill: You’re just normal.
Vince: Yeah. And it’s good, because I think there’s lots of people out there that feel that way too.
Bill: Oh yeah.
Vince: And it’s good to hear that I am normal, and not an anomaly. And it’s probably because I find those moments very uncomfortable and awkward for me. And to gain skills to get better at it, is very important. Because we can get better at this. We can be better at understanding what – how to have them, and maybe how to listen better. So you say in the seminar, that there’s some skills that we can develop in listening, right – as we have conversations. Give us a little clue as to why it’s important to listen well in a difficult conversation?
Bill: Listening is one of the ways that you let the other person know that they’ve been heard, and it’s one of the core connection tools that you have. You don’t connect when you’re speaking. You connect when you’re listening. And that’s counter-intuitive. Normally we think we’re connecting when we’re speaking, because we’re processing information, we’re delivering it – doing whatever it is we’re doing.
Bill: But it’s when you’re listening, and then you can say back to the person what you’ve heard, and it’s accurate – it’s accurate both in terms of content and in terms of emotional intensity.
Vince: Ooh that’s good.
Bill: And it’s accurate in terms of scope, breadth, depth. So for example, I’m just going to kind of pull an example out of the air here. Maybe your boss looks at you and says, “You know–” ‘Cause I had this recently. I had a colleague at work look at me, and he said, “You know Bill, you really F’d up here.” Except he used the whole word, right? “You really F’d up.”
Bill: And I – instead of immediately reacting and saying, “I didn’t–” I just sat there and listened to him. And he gave examples as to how he thought I had screwed up. And afterwards – after he finally stopped, I said, “So it sounds to me like you think I’ve really screwed up here because of X, Y, and Z.” He goes, “Yeah.” That’s all I needed.
Bill: And then I was able to say, “Here’s the explanation for X and Y and Z. I did not F up.”
Bill: “It just looks that way to you. But if you had been on the inside, you would’ve made the same decisions I made.” And you know what? He and I walked out of that room friends.
Bill: Now kudos to him for the maturity to do that.
Vince: Yeah, right.
Bill: Both to tell me what he thought, and walk out as friends. But kudos to me, quite frankly for listening and not letting my emotions get in the way.
Bill: So one of the core skills in listening isn’t just to hear the message, it’s to hear the emotion behind the message – and then be able to reflect that back to that individual in such a way that they know that they’ve been hurt.
Vince: That’s really good. I call that finding the meat and throwing out the bones. Typically in my conversations, it’s like you’re looking for the shred of truth there, or whatever it is that might be that moment of frustration that they’re sharing with you. And I love the example that you just gave. Because that’s what most guys are dealing with in the business world. They’re seeing someone come at them aggressively. They’re very angry, they’re cursing at them. I mean, this doesn’t just happen inside of our enterprise business, or small business. It happens with our customers sometimes.
Bill: Yeah it does.
Vince: That will berate us and be unfair, and attack us, and attack our character. But it takes a really calm person to throw out the bones, and take in that meat right there. And try to figure out – okay what inside of this very difficult conversation that they’re having with me, is real truth? And then pointing out the truth. Saying it back to them, maybe in a better way. And helping teach them maybe in the moment, right as well.
Vince: Oh wow. Kudos to you for how you handled that.
Bill: Well one of the common misconceptions is that if I reflect back to you what I’ve heard, you say – with the same intensity of emotion. In other words, I’m able to describe your emotions well. That one of the things that men think, is that well, “Then I’m agreeing with them.” No, you’re not. That’s not agreement. To reflect back is not to agree. It’s simply to let the other person know that you’ve heard, and that you’ve understood them. And once you finally get that, “Yeah, that’s about right.” Or that, “Yeah, you’ve got it.” Then you know that you’ve heard, and they feel heard. And that is where the emotional connection can be built.
Vince: Okay, so I have a thought on this, and I need you to either confirm or deny this. But I’ve found in many conflict moments, that really just being heard by the party that’s been offended, is like 95% of what they want to happen.
Bill: It is.
Vince: Like the other 5% maybe changes. But 95% of it is – they just want to be listened to. Am I right about that?
Bill: You are so right about that. My daughter is that way.
Bill: She’s a – she’s very much a person who needs to be heard. And when she and I have a conflict – and she’s 18, so we’re going to have conflicts.
Bill: The way that I’ve learned to manage her is just to sit down and listen. And this is tough for guys.
Bill: ‘Cause she will go on, and on and on, and on. And I just sit there and listen. And it takes energy. It takes more energy to listen than it does to talk.
Bill: And – but at the end, if I can say, “Well this is what I’ve heard you say, and this is how I think you’re feeling.” And she’ll go, “Yeah dad, you’ve got it.”
Bill: Okay. “Now, none of that matters. Here’s what I want you to do.” I’m just kidding. If my daughter’s listening, I’m just kidding.
Vince: Well at least you didn’t drift off, so–
Bill: That’s right.
Vince: So that’s what’s really important.
Bill: My mind didn’t wander.
Vince: Yeah, your mind didn’t wander, and that’s part of listening, right?
Bill: It is.
Vince: Is to like – to tune in, to listen, to repeat back, to – not to drift off. And to go, “Wait, this is really important for her right now, or for that person right now. I’m tuned in, I’m listening. They don’t need to yell at me. They’re just talking. Yeah, it may be a little bit boring, but I’m engaged.”
Vince: Right? And then I can say back and coach and direct and whatever it might be. I mean – yeah, men we really do need to listen more. And for people who like to verbally process like that–
Vince: Right? You’re probably helping them find solutions to issues in life that they couldn’t find before. They’re perplexed by. That they feel, but don’t understand. So it takes courage though to lean into these difficult conversations, right? That’s what I usually remember when someone is addressing an issue that they have with me. Is the first thing that I start to remember is, “Wow, this is probably difficult for them. This is probably challenging.” For some people it isn’t, they just like to do it. It’s like–
Bill: Yeah, but there’s not a lot of those people in the world, frankly.
Vince: That’s right. So part of listening then – it sounds like to me, is just to slow down, listen, and then repeat back what you’ve heard.
Bill: It is. And it’s – a good exercise to do, is to take a day. Guys, just take a day, and never interrupt somebody.
Vince: Ooh, that’s a good challenge.
Bill: Don’t talk over the end of their sentences. Wait for them to completely finish, and then you start talking. And see what kind of emotional restraint, mental gymnastics as it were, and energy that it takes to listen.
Vince: And not prepare an answer. That’s really hard, I bet for many of us. I think that’s actually exceptional. Because I think we all need to grow in understanding and to listen. You know what’s remarkable to me, Bill?
Bill: No I don’t.
Vince: Okay yeah– You’ll appreciate it.
Bill: But would you tell me please?
Vince: I’ll tell you what’s remarkable to me. So Jesus Christ asked a lot of questions. And yet he had all the answers. Isn’t that fantastic?
Vince: I mean you look back at him, and he’s got this rich young ruler running up to him. And the rich young ruler says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Vince: Jesus doesn’t answer him. Even though he has all the answers. He returns it with a question. Very Socratic, right?
Vince: ‘Course Socrates lived before Jesus, and he’s deploying a little bit of that Greek method there. And he says back to him, “Well what does it say in the law?” And then the guy recites it, because he’s really excited to share with him everything that he knows. And then he finishes that, and Jesus goes, “Good, I think you got most of it there.” And then the guy asks another question. And of course, Jesus tells a story that invites another question. And baits him in. I think that’s actually perplexing. Because Jesus more often than not, answered people’s questions with more questions.
Bill: With more questions, yeah.
Vince: Which demonstrates that he really wants to hear their heart, he really wants to know them. Or in some of these cases, he was exposing these people.
Bill: Yeah, some of those questions are meant to expose.
Bill: But you’ll find in life – generally speaking – actually more than generally speaking. The most successful people in life are generally not the smartest in the room, or the best educated or the most credentialed. The most successful people in life are the ones who know how to listen and how to resolve conflict and build relationships. ‘Cause life and business is about relationships, more than it is about degrees and pedigrees and–
Vince: Yeah, logos and egos, right?
Bill: I like that phrase, “Logos and egos.”
Vince: You like that, use that. Yeah, yeah.
Bill: Can I use that?
Vince: Yeah, use it man. I just patented it. So – and I agree. I think that if we can lay some of those things down, and we can listen to each other, I think Jesus Christ calls us into an attitude of listening to those around us, so that we can help see their problems.
Bill: So who should we be listening to the most?
Bill: The Holy Spirit.
Vince: Exactly. The spirit within us, and within his creation.
Bill: In Isaiah it says, “You’ll hear a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it.'”
Vince: That’s good.
Bill: “And if you can hear that, and learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and be obedient to that, you can listen to other people. Because you’ll have the spirit inside of you, throttling you at the right times.”
Vince: Well we’re just going to leave the listeners with that today. That they need to go out, and they need to listen to people around them. And then listen to the spirit in them, and not tune it out. Because we can sure 15:02 that spirit sometimes, right?
Vince: Actually creates the conflict. Well Bill, thank you for being with us.
Bill: You bet.
Vince: Well guys, that’s the show. Thanks so much for listening. As we close, I want to remind you of 2 things. So first is this. My good friend here, Bill English hosts a number of seminars throughout the year, seasonally – that he invites business leaders and their people to come to. Where he coaches and teaches them how to handle and manage difficult business conversations. You’ve got to check this out. I’m going to give you a link right now, for you to consider to go to.
And I want you to write this down if you can. It’s beresolute.org/difficultconversations. Forward slash, difficult conversations. I’ll have a number of links there, that link directly to Bill’s website. Directly to some of his seminars, so you can check them out. He offers them quarterly. The next ones are coming up here in November. I believe again in January and March of next year. You’ve got to check these out. They’re awesome times for you to bring your employees, your friends, your business partners – in helping to coach them to understand how to manage these difficult conversations that we have to have in our life.
Secondly, as always – if you’re looking for men’s content, you know where to find it, right? Beresolute.org. I hope you stop by there today because there’s a number of great tools for men, and those that are leading in men’s ministry, or just leading a small group – with a group of men, maybe at your business or your home?
So guys, as always – I hope you enjoy this podcast. But please know, that the time that we spent together today is worthless unless you act on it. So do something today. Do something. By getting off the bench, and into the game. And I’ll see you right back here next time for another edition of the Resolute Podcast.